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Open For Comments

by Joshua Mamis & Gwyneth K. Shaw | Feb 20, 2012 9:08 am

(26) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: Media

The “cone of silence” has lifted: We’d love to hear your feedback on all our stories, and publish some of it under a retooled comments process.

After a two-week “time-out” on publishing reader comments, we have turned the switch back on. With your help, we spent the time debating how best to continue including our readers’ insightful, fun, passionate comments (the best in the business) without resuming publishing the sewer that our comments section had become over the past six months. We missed you! So we’ve come up with the following changes in order to give it our best shot:

• If you’re new to our commenting ranks, please register with a real name (under “user name”) and email address before posting comments. You can comment anonymously. If you already had an account in good standing, you’re ready to go. If you’d like to change your screen name, please do it using your existing account—don’t register for a new one. (Got questions? Find answers here.)
• Please confirm that you’ve read our rules before posting comments.
• We’re keeping the same rules we had before but a) enforcing them more strictly; and b) publishing far fewer comments, even if they meet the rules. (More on that below.)
• Comments with factual allegations—what you heard in a bar, what nefarious deeds people are up to in local agencies—will be forwarded to reporters for possible use in stories, not published in the comments section. Better yet, send such information directly to reporters. An “E-mail the author” button appears at the top of every story.
• Comments now have a word limit.
• We will continue to pre-screen all comments before publishing them. But less often. Our New Haven reporting and editing staff will no longer screen comments night and day. We just don’t have the dough for a full-time vetting team. Joshua Mamis and Gwyneth K. Shaw have generously volunteered to screen and publish comments six times each weekday (not on weekends), starting before the workday starts and ending in early evening. Josh was the longtime editor and publisher of the New Haven Advocate. Gwyneth, who used to cover Congress for the Baltimore Sun, is the Independent’s nanotechnology reporter. In the following piece, they explain their approach to their new task:


After reviewing our policy on commenting, we stand by our Rules of the Road. But we are changing how we enforce the rules. In a phrase, we have decided that less is more.

While in the past we have tried our best to be as inclusive as possible, to post any comment that didn’t specifically violate the rules, we will now be working under a much different standard. We will be posting comments that help to illuminate the story; that provide history and context and perspective that will guide New Haven Independent readers to a more thorough understanding of what is going on. We will be culling comments that not only violate the rules but that violate the spirit of the rules; that denigrate personalities; that are attempting to use the Independent to spar with those who disagree with them, or to try to settle scores.

New Haven is a geographically small city, and we think that’s one of our biggest advantages. We live and work and recreate with 130,000 or so familiar faces. We are, at heart, idealists, and we will be working to create an environment in which our readers can discuss our stories and disagree with each other with civility and respect.

We have come to understand that the comments section is no Hyde Park, no open forum for free-speech spouting. Our comment stream will be curated by experienced editors. Some comments – we expect far fewer than previously – will be posted; some will be forwarded to our writers to consider the input for follow-up reporting; some will be trashed for violating the rules; and some will be regretfully deleted with second guessing about whether we have made the right decision.

Because we freely admit that deciding which comment to publish and which comment to zap is a judgment call (much like the judgment call editors make when assigning or working on a story). We’re pretty sure we’ll miss a few in the months ahead.  Nobody’s perfect.

And we apologize in advance that we won’t have the time or resources to provide you with individual responses as to our thinking, or to debate the outcome. Our decisions will be final. However, if your comment isn’t published, feel free to re-read our rules and try again. Remember that the New Haven Independent is part of a not-for-profit project with a small staff and a (very) limited budget. (Shameless plug: Please think about supporting our efforts.) 

We can promise you this:  We have no interest in filtering comments that take us to task or that disagree with any one particular point of view. Though we acknowledge that some of you may find that hard to believe, we do think that through this process our comments will reflect a huge diversity of ideas and perspectives that is impossible to achieve with our small news gathering operation. And for that, we thank you.

And so, enough about us. We’re once again eager to hear from you.

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Comments

posted by: BenBerkowitz on February 20, 2012  9:43am

Hello World.

posted by: V on February 20, 2012  9:48am

I think this new approach will fall victim to your own biases and the comments will become an echo chamber of your beliefs.

-or-

The Independent is left-wing; it’s most strident, dedicated, and wordy commenters are, too; and editors (being human) will publish that which makes them feel better about themselves and their world-views.

And I fully expect this to be deleted, as per your article and in accordance with the basic human need to avoid conflict and feel good about oneself.

posted by: cedarhillresident! on February 20, 2012  9:57am

ohhh look it is my comment in a box! :)

HEY ALL I so totally missed this and all of your thoughts! ***waving hi and jumping up and down***

I am so happy it is time for a happy song!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xzk_4Y3IybI

posted by: Bella on February 20, 2012  10:03am

Welcome back. I was pretty much just a commenter of uplifting and/or inspirational stories.  You’ve had a few in the past two weeks that I would have loved to give kudos to.  I’m grateful to have the opportunity back.  I hope this works out well for everyone !

posted by: Paul Wessel on February 20, 2012  10:25am

Thank you all.

posted by: DingDong on February 20, 2012  11:39am

I’m skeptical about this new approach, but I like the NHI and I’m glad to have some forum for comments rather none. 

It’s true that a lot of the comments posted under the old system were cynical, but maybe things are in New Haven are worth being cynical about?  I don’t actually believe that, but I don’t think it is a newspaper or a website’s role to enforce civic optimism.  Sure, weed out vile personal attacks, name-calling and worthless expressions of racism, but if people are grumpy, let them be grumpy. 

I’d like to say “only time will tell” if the new system works, but the disturbing thing is that we will never know what has been censored (“moderated”) so we won’t know if what we get is the real debate or the editors’ version of it.  Time won’t tell, at least for readers.

Maybe the moderators could do a post every two weeks summarizing how many comments they allowed and how many they rejected and maybe just a brief insight into their thinking behind a few close calls?  Having some kind of glimpse behind the scenes would help build trust, at least in the beginning.

posted by: Jodie Mozdzer Gil on February 20, 2012  11:49am

Welcome back. I know you put a lot of thought and effort into this discussion on commenting.

posted by: Dan Kennedy on February 20, 2012  11:56am

Welcome back. Looks like you’ve hit on the right balance. Only thing I would add is that your reporters should be encouraged to participate in the comments, civilly and respectfully, so that your commenters don’t feel like they’re shouting in an empty room.

posted by: Margaret Waage on February 20, 2012  12:20pm

Glad to see commenting is back. It’s a good indication people are actually reading!

posted by: BenBerkowitz on February 20, 2012  12:56pm

Dan Kennedy,
Great point.

I’m not sure the empty room analogy is precise enough.

Its more like a crowded room where people are yelling over each other to reach the person who started the conversation without knowing that they in fact were the first to leave the room.

posted by: OccupyTheClassroom on February 20, 2012  12:57pm

I’ve been wanting to comment so BADLY about the last few articles. SO BADLY!

Anyways, is there a way to make the spell checker better? Add contractions and such.

posted by: Dean Moriarty on February 20, 2012  1:23pm

I’m quite happy to see this feature reinstated. Most of the time I’ve gained a better perspective on the articles by reading the comments. Your readers are smart enough to recognize a “rant” and ignore it. As for the political leanings of the editors, yes, I realize they can be a bit different from my own. But, I don’t really see any bias or agenda in the articles themselves.  Just good reporting. Kudos for bringing this back, and keep up the excellent work!

posted by: Dan Kennedy on February 20, 2012  1:56pm

My latest for the Nieman Journalism Lab: “The New Haven Independent reboots its comments engine.”

http://www.niemanlab.org/2012/02/the-new-haven-independent-reboots-its-comments-engine/

posted by: Mister Jones on February 20, 2012  3:03pm

I promise to behave. [Of course, I thought I was behaving pre-cone of silence…]

posted by: robn on February 20, 2012  3:09pm

Ahhhhhhh.

Glad to exhale because my face was turning blue and my curiosity about other people’s thoughts was killing me. Hey wait a minute? maybe I’m a British Shorthair ?!

posted by: Uma Ramiah on February 20, 2012  3:59pm

Hooray! Thanks for making this work, J & G.

posted by: Bruce J. on February 20, 2012  8:23pm

Glad the comments option is back, and I welcome the sensible restrictions now in place. The preemptive deletion that one fresh commenter predicted, did not happen, as we all can see.
The Independent tends to be liberal and critical in its thinking, yes (“left wing” is an overstatement), but it ALSO is covering important New Haven events lots better than the Register is able to do these days, and it includes genuinely affecting practices, like the humane and always interesting obituaries. In sum, the Independent rocks. Good going, Mr. Bass and others. Keep on keeping on.

posted by: HhE on February 20, 2012  8:32pm

Thanks.  I understand the time out and all that.  Still, I went from reading two or three times a day to reading once or twice a week.  As much as many of the comments helped me get in touch with my inner rage, they are a big part of the richness and value of the NHI.  I miss you cedarhillresident, robn, streever, Brutus, and yes, you too Jonathan Hopkins.

posted by: Brutus2011 on February 20, 2012  11:56pm

I have learned and considered points of view that I might not have encountered without the NHI.
Thank you, Mr. Bass and staff.

posted by: East Rockette on February 21, 2012  7:03am

Hooray! I always love the reporting, but have truly missed the community of voices here over the last few weeks. The comments have always seemed to say at least as much about the commenters themselves as about the stories, and this thread is already no exception :)

Anyway, welcome back. May genteel, passionate, funny and mutually illuminating conversation reign!

posted by: David S Baker on February 21, 2012  9:09am

My visits dropped by 90% as well, (as did my blood pressure), but was more of a self imposed hiatus.  I have to admit, this situation has encouraged me to erase my old monitor, post my real name, and gave me a bit of guilt about not subscribing.  I am a bit of an NHI Junkie ,even IF I have a tendency to behave as the overly cynical and mean spirited Andy Rooney of Fair Haven Heights, and plan to chip in from now on.

A Tip:  If you want to take out some aggression thru the written word, go to Amazon and review a product or two.  (Far more cathartic.)

Will the NHI still reply to the occasional comment line inquiry?

posted by: westville man on February 21, 2012  12:49pm

I agree with the majority of posters- I still read NHI while it was “silent” but found the articles less interesting knowing there would be no comments following.
I believe in many cases the information and knowledge contained in the comments helped me greatly- even from the posters whom i historically disagree with!

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on February 21, 2012  1:52pm

It’s great to have the comment section back and am actually a little surprised by the relatively short hiatus because I try to read must of the comments posted on most articles, but I can only imagine having to read every single one on every article AND all the ones that are submitted but not posted. I don’t know how you guys did it for so long.

Also…
“If you’re trying to hijack a comments thread to link with ads for your personal business…or long rants about unrelated issues or crusades — we’re going to zap them.”

You guys are just kidding about this rule though, right?

posted by: ACR on February 21, 2012  6:57pm

>>My visits dropped by 90% as well, (as did my blood pressure)


Well put.

posted by: Walt on February 22, 2012  8:01am

Though heavily liberal and pro-bike biased, the staff has almost always accepted my, usually-different views with little or no change.

Doubt if I would be as fair if I were doing the editing,

The comments add a lot to the value of the stories,  Happy they have been re-allowed,

posted by: DingDong on February 22, 2012  11:58am

Thanks Walt—it’s really useful to know that they always accept your views.  I’m as liberal and pro-bike as the editors, so I wouldn’t know if any viewpoint discrimination goes on!  But congratulations and thanks to the Independent for allowing commenting—your site, and the comments, are one of the best parts of New Haven!

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