A community guidelines FAQ

As anyone who has commented on a Globe and Mail story probably knows, we have a policy on what kinds of comments are appropriate and which ones are removed, but I confess that we haven’t always done a great job of communicating that policy clearly and consistently to our readers — in part because our policy has been evolving, and continues to do so (which I would argue is a good thing).

So why and how are comments on Globe stories taken down? Why doesn’t the Globe require commenters to use their real names? Why do some comments simply disappear, while others are replaced by a message that says they weren’t “consistent with our guidelines?” Do Globe reporters ever respond to comments, and under what conditions?

These are the kinds of questions that our Community Guidelines FAQ was developed to answer. It also deals with how we approach other forms of community engagement, including live discussions (which we do using software from Toronto’s Cover It Live) and forums, which we are in the process of rolling out on our Globe Investor site, and hopefully elsewhere.

In coming up with our policies, we have looked at the way many other media outlets handle comments and community — including sites such as The Guardian (whose policies are here), the CBC and the New York Times — as well as non-media communities like Metafilter and Slashdot. Like all of those sites, we want to allow our readers to comment on issues they feel strongly about, but at the same time we want to maintain a civil tone that encourages dialogue instead of partisan attacks.

We are probably never going to achieve that balance completely, or to everyone’s satisfaction. But we are trying hard to do so, because we know that many of you look to the Globe as a place where you can discuss important topics, and we want to encourage others to do so.

The FAQ is a work in progress, so please let me know what you think, either by posting a comment here or by reaching me at @mathewi on Twitter or via email at mingram@globeandmail.com.

Newspapers get the comments they deserve

Since I became the first “communities editor” for The Globe and Mail newspaper in Toronto almost a year ago, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what makes for a good community – a healthy community – and what makes for a bad one. I’ve looked at every newspaper I can think of and tried to figure out what works and what doesn’t. I’ve looked at non-media communities like Metafilter and Slashdot and even (so help me) 4chan. I’ve looked at research into real-world communities and how they evolve, and why some thrive and some die out.

There are all sorts of manifestations of community on news sites – blogs, wikis, etc. – but one of the most fundamental elements of community is reader comments. Some media outlets only allow comments on certain stories; some pre-moderate, while others wait for readers to flag unpleasant comments and then remove them. Some sites do the moderating themselves; others outsource to companies like ICUC in Winnipeg. But everyone sees the value of comments, right? Wrong.

The reality is that – as Alfred Hermida of the University of British Columbia journalism school writes at MediaShift – many newspapers still see comments as some kind of necessary evil: a bone tossed to readers to help drive traffic, but something that produces little else of value. Hermida writes about research presented at the recent Future of Journalism conference in Wales (where he presented his “Twitter as ambient journalism” paper) that said most journalists see comments as containing very little news, and mainly view them as a nuisance.

(please read the rest of this post at the Neiman Journalism Lab)

Broken windows and a call for help

The always excellent Jason Kottke has a post up that got me thinking about the “broken windows” theory and how it applies to online communities. The theory — articulated in this piece from The Atlantic in 1982 — states that crime and bad behaviour of various kinds tends to proliferate where there are obvious signs of neglect, such as broken windows. In other words, if people perceive that no one cares or is looking after a place, the odds of vandalism increase, and The Economist has some hard evidence to back up the theory. The obvious corollary is to online communities or group discussions, Kottke argues (and I agree). As he puts it:

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Journalism, data and community

I apologize in advance — this post is really just some links that I came across that have to do with the media, the “data-fication” of journalism, and community. Maybe when I have more time I will try to find the connections that pull these things together, but until then I will just present them as they are, in part to help myself remember and think about them:

— The Los Angeles Times has a “data desk,” which includes links to all of their data-driven projects (link via Kottke.org, who found it via Ben Fry’s blog, who got it from Casey). Some interesting stuff in there, including a database of fatalities from a train crash in September, along with personal information about the deceased, and a list of L.A.’s dirtiest pools.

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Ze Frank knows about community

At some point during a long night of Twitter responses to the U.S. election, Ze Frank posted a simple message saying that he was looking for people to post where and what they were doing when Obama was elected president. “Gimme snippets of your night,” he said. And about 130 people did just that, some of them just a few sentences, some of them long messages of 800 words or more. Here’s a few samples:

— “I was the girl who ran up and hugged you under the gigantic American flag. One of the most surreal moments of my life. Thank you.”

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