Friday, October 29, 2010

Commenting on News Websites For Dummies

One of my jobs at is moderating comments. No comment is published until it has been approved.

For those surprised by this let me assure you that comments are moderated for the general public's benefit. The filth some people write is enough to make your stomach turn. Those who cry foul because moderation is "undemocratic," I'd argue you wouldn't appreciate being subjected to extreme cases of swearing, verbal abuse, sexual innuendo and outright senseless comments.

News websites have a large readership from a wide demographic and therefore are, on the whole, family friendly. Many people spend time and effort formulating an argument but one slip-up means they will not be published.

For those of you who do want your comment published, keep the following points in mind.


1. Swear. Remember, family friendly language. If you wouldn't want your five-year-old reading it or saying it, don't write it. We aren't complete prudes and can tolerate the odd 'bloody,' but you don't get much leverage beyond that.

2. Use abbreviations for swear words or replace letters with characters. WTF is not acceptable. Just think, when you read WTF do you say the letters in your head or the actual word? Putting in @, * or 1 won't work either.

3. Abuse other commenters. If you don't agree with what other people think, great. But don't call them an idiot, a moron, a clown or anything else that has that nasty ring to it. It is insulting and really unnecessary.

4. Abuse anyone. Just because Julia Gillard is the Australian Prime Minister doesn't mean she is exempt from criticism but there is no need to directly insult her and call her 'names'-ie. 'the ranga said...', 'the commie...', 'the bitch...', etc. If you would be offended if someone wrote that about you, don't write it about someone else.

5. Defame a company, brand or person. Alerting people of your dodgy experience with a product or company is fine but be careful with the claims you make. In the court the surest defense is truth but also remember that Australia doesn't have freedom of speech laws.

6. Make threats or insinuate. This issue particularly comes up with crime stories. If a driver kills a person and gets sentenced to two years jail, don't insinuate that he will just keep on killing when he gets out or will be killed himself by vigilantes. Sometimes family members or those involved with the incident read these stories and can be spooked out by the mob mentality.

7. Discriminate. No brainer, really. Sexism, racism, etc. is not tolerated. Also, just because you don't agree with someone's religious beliefs doesn't mean you can completely slag them or the religion out. Show a little respect and consideration.

8.Write in a foreign language. I didn't think I'd have to list this one but for those who think they can get away with saying something sneaky in another language, it won't work. Comment moderators will most certainly not bother to find out what it means.

9. Post links. Although sometimes links are accepted, particularly if they add to the debate, more often than not people's posts with links sound like advertisements. Also, some urls don't make it clear what it is linking to and it makes the moderators wary of what they will find when they click on the link.

10. Post an unrelated or 'nothing' comment. If the comment adds nothing to the discussion, why would we publish it? For example, the 'who cares' are pretty boring. Add a reason why you don't care. If the story is about how chickens in Denmark lay purple eggs don't blame the ALP for it.

11. Be crass, sadistic or use sexual innuendo. Some people don't even try to disguise it. Keep it PG. It's really simple- if you are just being a jerk and want to be disgusting just don't. No one wants to read it.

12. Troll. We know a troll when we see one. We even have hilarious conversations about various trolls. Trolls often post outrageous comments to rile up other people. For example, in a story about shark attacks a troll might say 'lets just kill every shark and make the species extinct.'

13. Tell us how much you hate, its stories and its journalists. Go through a formal complaint process and give logical reasons (use spell check if you can too). Or better still, just don't read our stories. We do appreciate people pointing out mistakes in stories and such but say it in a sensible way. If it's just hate mail why would we take it seriously? Did you take the guy that threw the shoe at John Howard on Q&A seriously?

14. Use caps lock. I usually moderate a few words in capital letters but a whole sentence or more and you are pushing it.

15. Re-post your original comment. Once you've hit submit, it's in our system. Just be patient. You can post multiple comments but duplicates will not be approved and they are also irritating.

16. Call to complain about your comment not being published. We get thousands of comments every day and of those we read, many don't get published for the above reasons. Getting calls from people because they are cranky at us is not going to help anyone. Same goes for emails.


1. Formulate a thoughtful, sensible and informed opinion about the story and its surrounding issues. Comments are open so people can discuss and share their views; so that you can engage with each other and learn about how so many people think differently to you.

2. Respect other people's opinions.

3. Spell correctly. Obviously we approve comments with spelling mistakes but here's a warning: commenters will not take you very seriously if you can't spell and they will definitely use it against you when they refute your argument.

4. Use paragraphs. Paragraphs make things easier to read. They also give your argument structure so it can be more easily understood.

5. Keep it short and concise. Often when we have 200 plus comments it takes a lot of time to read them all so we get extra picky. Those who can get to the point straight away will often be more likely to be approved when it's busy.

6. Be patient. We get thousands of comments every day. For some stories we get over 600 comments. It is quite a time consuming process and we usually have dozens of stories open and active so don't expect your comment to be approved straight away.

More than anything, think before you post. Although you can be anonymous doesn't mean you have to act like a fool. Comments give people a great opportunity to learn and share their thoughts and experiences with one another. I often learn new things from particularly insightful comments and others appreciate being able to engage with one another on an intellectual level.

Online news gives more people the opportunity to have their voice and story heard in a quick and easy way. By keeping the above points in mind you will not only make us moderators happy but hopefully benefit yourself by seeing your own comments on the site being considered, appreciated and rebuffed by others around the world.

I will continue to add to this list, and let me know if anyone has extra points too. If you have any questions, feel free to ask.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The glorification of death in the media

Do you want to be confronted with the face of someone who has tragically died when you log out of checking your emails? I vote for no.

Logging out of hotmail is a regular routine and today I was confronted with this:
Here is a link to the story.

Ninemsn is well known for dumbing down and sensationalising the news- as is much of online media.

However, it now seems a trend to just smack up the face of someone now dead to shock us and bring out some kind of "Oh, how sad, I'm glad it wasn't me" or "I can't believe that man mistook the woman for a deer!" reaction.

For the journalists out there other thoughts might include: "How did the woman have a husband in the headline who was then demoted to a boyfriend in the story? Was a husband losing his wife more tragic?"

Needless to say, I am positive there are more newsworthy things happening in the world (or even, you know, Australia) that deserve the 'front page'.

More so, you would think an online news site would use the advantage they have of little to no publishing delays to lead with timely and 'fresh' news- not something that happened on Friday night when it is now Monday.

This circumstance leads to the bigger issue of the glorification of death. It is an age-old saying: "if it bleeds is leads" but do you think this is a motto to run news services by?

Thousands of people die every day. Yes, some deaths seem more 'newsworthy' and extraordinary than others but wouldn't it be more helpful and constructive to fill news bulletins with the happenings of the living?

It's no wonder so many people are turned off watching or reading the news when they know they will be confronted with doom and gloom.

Sure, doom and gloom is a fact of life but let's not blow things out of proportion. We don't run a story every time a woman gives birth in unusual circumstances or every time a baby survives against all odds- and neither should we.

Here is to hoping for the end (or at least reduction) of the media glorifying death and re-prioritising what daily global happenings are of most importance.

What do you think? If it bleeds should it lead? Do the media glorify death, and is that acceptable?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Pyne and Hardy and Green. Oh my!

Today was an interesting news day. That's why I love my job. You never know what the world's going to throw at you next.

On this occasion it was a post by ABC columnist Marieke Hardy who wrote a vicious (to say the least) piece about how much she (or to use her own language "Australians") hate Liberal MP Christopher Pyne.

The day started off this way:

I read political reporter for The Australian, Samantha Maiden's tweet around midday:
"I like @ and theres some decent stuff on The Drum but I didn't think much of this "
I then tweeted myself:
"Tasteless journalism: If @ writes like that would you trust her to write a serious political piece?"
Following this I discussed my wonder at how such a hateful, bias opinion piece got published in the first place (particularly by publicly owned, The Drum) with my workmates.

When I returned from lunch I was welcomed with this story on our homepage in tops (tops is to online news what front page is to broadsheet) about how The Drum's editor Jonathan Green offered a personal apology to Pyne, admitted he was wrong for approving Hardy's article and pulled down the opinion piece.

My subsequent tweet read:
"Thanks @ for bringing @'s horrid column about Pyne to the 'editor's' attn. Forced @ 2 wake up to itself."
From there, I went on my merry way home to work on the tower of university assignments due next week.

About half an hour ago I received this tweet from Green himself:
"@ sam maiden brought the column to my attention? dear me."
Not wanting to get on Green's 'bad side' but fearing I already was, I ventured to reply:
"@ If she didn't the timing of the apology and Sam's blog was uncanny to say the least. How did it slip through in the first place?"
Here's what ensued.

Green to me:
"@ read what i wrote."
Me to Green:
"@ Of course I've read it. On Monday you approved it, on Friday you brought it down. On Friday Sam wrote about it, people tweeted, etc."
Green to me:
"@ sounds pretty circumstantial to me. I'm guessing you're just guessing."
Me to Green:
"@ you're guessing right. Right or not, the incident brings up interesting questions about opinion pieces, pc-ness and the media's role"
Green to me:
"@ for sure."
I left it there, I thought things had come to their natural conclusion.

Earlier in the day, around the time Green's apology went up, Maiden tweeted:
"@ I don't think it had anything to do with me. Suspect I wasn't only person who thought it wasn't a great look."
She wasn't. Tweeters threw around comments like this one from @AnimeMonko
"@ Agree. I'm not very happy with the ABC/The Drum being used for overt character assassination"
and this one from @ghostof3LO
"@ imagine the uproar if a conservative wrote a column like @ 's about Julia Gillard or Bob Brown"
Whether Maiden's column did or didn't inspire Green to take down Hardy's column is an interesting point of its own right but I think the bigger discussion is whether a) Hardy's column should have been published in the first place and b) whether it was the right decision to take it down and therefore what that means for both Hardy as a journalist and The Drum as a source of "analysis and views on the issues of the day" (as its slogan suggests).

Bigger yet, the incident calls into question age-old journalistic values of objective and tasteful news reporting. Yes, opinion columns can show more flair and criticism than a hard news story but does that mean unbridled bias is acceptable too?

Green said himself in between tweeting to me:
"i'm beginning to think i have rather quaint ideas about news value."
To my question above- not Green's statement- I argue no. As I was discussing with David Campbell (the singer, not the ex-politician) earlier in the night before my twitter conversation with Green, stories are "censored" in the newsroom everyday in the interest of political correctness and avoiding defamation. This censor is called the editor. As media theory says, they are the 'gatekeeper/s' to what the public do and don't hear, see and read- through the mainstream media, at least. Now that we have blogs and other glorious forms of social media the power of this role has somewhat diminished (although let's not get too ahead of ourselves).

What do you think about todays turn of events? Would you have acted differently if you were in Green's shoes? Do you think Hardy's column was acceptable? How would you feel if you were in Pyne's shoes?