ChuffPo, comments and interns

When I started at TOC, one of the first things I did was allow the blog to accept comments. They hadn’t yet done this because it was a can of worms no one wanted to open, I suppose.

In an ideal world, we’d have a system that requires someone to create a profile before they comment on our site. The reasons why we don’t do this involve a lot of issues that aren’t germane to this post, but suffice it to say, this is how I’d do it if we had unlimited resources.

In fact, I think most sites should operate this way. If you want to comment, you create a profile. Even people with assumed names tend to take responsibility for the persona they’re creating. It doesn’t mean you won’t have any assholes, just fewer. It’s not just personal opinion either, as other sites find this helps make their content better, and foster community.

But since we don’t have profiles, I moderate every comment that gets posted on the site. I’m pretty lenient with what gets posted, but anything that comes across as a personal attack on the writer or another commenter won’t go up. And anything that I deem to be (as our comment policy states) “just plain nasty” doesn’t go up. Is it subjective? Yes. But I’m generally pro-comments and wouldn’t ever think of not posting something just because it was critical of the content of a post, even if it was my own. (For proof, check out the comments on this Liz Phair review I wrote back in June.)

In a side note on yesterday’s post, I mentioned how Marilyn Ferdinand of Ferdy on Films said some of her less-than-positive-but-still-constructive comments weren’t posted. The Beachwood Reporter also printed letters from those who dared to fact-check the mighty John Cusack (ahem) and found their comments similarly blocked. Now, granted, these are all comments from the readers of one site, so there may be a bit of an echo chamber at work here. (That’s no slam on the usually-fine work of the Beachwood or its readers – of which I am one – just an acknowledgment of a small sample size). Even so, Kevin Allman looked at ChuffPo’s commenting policy and found that – to put it mildly – it seems to be rather broadly enforced. Especially since an off-topic comment on HuffPo is as easy to find as a drunk at quarter draft night.

Now, the funny thing is, ChuffPo has a profile system. So you’d think it would let those who are big on the pointless negativity bury themselves. But it seems the site is more interested in keeping it positive, to the detriment of an interesting dialogue. I know from experience that moderating comments is an inexact art (there’s nothing scientific about it). But it should be done in a way that errs on the side of openness. If you’re wrong, take your lumps. Even if you’re John Cusack.

As for the rest of ChuffPo, another day hasn’t found me more impressed. I know Rachel Maddow replacing Dan Abrams on MSNBC is a big deal to a small group of people – most of whom probably include HuffPo on their list of daily reads – but I’d hardly call it a lead national news story. And while I was born a south suburban kid who had a huge crush on Jami Gertz, even I can’t see the reason for publishing her mash note to…Glenview. (Seriously, Glenview?)

Part of me thinks I’m being too critical. Then again, if Lee Abrams likes what they’re doing maybe I’m right on this after all.

“I think they do a great job for day one. Personally, the story selection, the categories, the scannability [sic] are all great. Check their Crime page.”

Incidentally, the “Crime page” that Abrams refers to is nothing more than a link and pretty picture to SpotCrime.com, which has nothing on the ease of use of EveryBlock, which gives you the same information, and much more. (Don’t let SpotCrime fool you: It doesn’t have much data for the current day, unless you believe that no crimes occurred in the city…)

Finally, I’m still wondering about this whole “HuffPo not paying bloggers is wrong” meme. The only argument seems to be “Arianna Huffington has a lot of money and ought to spread it around.” In that case, shouldn’t the same people who are taking HuffPo to task for its use of free labor also direct their ire at other well-heeled members of the publishing and media industries who use free labor (a.k.a. interns) all the time? Seriously, convince me. Or do you not think doing your interview transcriptions and running across town to pick up product from a vendor is also something of value? Even though the only reason you have time to write is because your interns are doing all the shit jobs you don’t want to do?

2 comments for “ChuffPo, comments and interns

  1. August 20, 2008 at 12:49 pm

    This is a technical nitpick and I’m going to sound like a colossal Slashdot nerd for saying it, but I wish they’d create a separate RSS feed for the Chicago stuff. Otherwise, it doesn’t exist to me. I only have so much time to surf sites “the old fashioned way.”

  2. August 20, 2008 at 12:56 pm

    I felt the same way. I don’t think we’re the only ones. Especially since, at this point, that’s the only content of any distinction.

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