I have watched with growing disappointment as the trolls and jerks who are automatically screened from most blogs through splendid collaborative tools like Akismet have found a new home in the comments section of the local newspaper here in Boulder, the Daily Camera. Far from illuminating the story and adding thoughtful, intelligent commentary, too many comments are like these:
[On a story about a party gone wrong at the University of Colorado] “CU Meat heads. Like trash in the streets, the cretins can always be counted upon to show up and leave their greasy residues.”
[On a story about an apartment building burning down] “Wow, a burning bush. If you look closely at the smoke on the wall, you can see a face looking back at you. This whole thing is divine.”
“Is it Clinton’s fault yet? I just got here.”
“Wow, there are a lot of jerks posting tonight.”
These are tame. The Daily Camera staff has to be rather vigilant, and it’s quite common to see a discussion where 25% or more of the comments are “(This comment was removed by the site staff.)”
Nonetheless, it’s a fine line between having coherent editorial control, managing the content of a site and its tone and censorship, and it’s darn difficult to impose any sort of discourse quality metrics. Imagine a site that said “Note: sarcasm is not allowed.”
That’s a cause of frustration and too many people I talk with here in Boulder tell me that they skip the comments attached to articles on the Daily Camera’s Web site because of the tone, hostility and generally poor discourse.
And that’s too bad – though understandable – because they wouldn’t see the great example of participatory citizen media in one of the latest stories on the site, a story about a boy being knocked off his bike by an RV just up the street from my place. A terrible story with a good ending: the boy is actually in good shape and his primary injury appears to be abrasion wounds from being dragged by the vehicle.
Within all the asinine comments about how bikers in Boulder are arrogant and don’t follow the rules of the road are two comments worth pulling out, however:
“Thanks to those who have showed support. I am the boys father, and I want to report that he is currently in the hospital, and he is going to be okay. He fractured an ankle, has a nice quarter sized chunk missing from his right elbow, and has MASSIVE road rash, mostly on his back and shoulders. Will probably be in there for a couple days. He didn’t stop at the stop sign, he looked right, there was a truck with a trailer parked to the left (possibly illegally that close to an intersection) that he pulled past and was hit. Frankly, they thought the helmet saved his life.”
and then, just a few comments later:
“I wish to second the fact that the driver was NOT going 40 mph. I spoke to a witness-I am not sure about a parked truck with trailer. I think that person stopped AFTER the accident to try and help. Thank you, people for all the help received at the time. The boy was at my house when this happened.”
How often do you get to read a news report and then see additional information from two of the key players in the story? In this case, while we didn’t hear from the injured boy or the driver of the RV, we did get candid comments from the boy’s father and the mother of the other boy whose house the injured boy had been visiting.
Imagine this ability to reach out to the local community and get candid supplemental information from key players with other stories too. The ability for story subjects to add their own commentary is a terrific feedback mechanism and can not only ensure stories are accurate but also help keep journalists honest too.
It’s participatory mainstream media. With all its warts.
Welcome to Journalism 2.0.