I recently read an interesting article by the WashPost PR blog which discusses various news about the Washington Post, new features of the post and more. Having lived in Northern Virginia for the majority of my life I am obviously very familiar with the Washington Post. I think they have done some very interesting things with their web presence and have been staying at the forefront of newspaper companies when it comes to their online presence. This post I found to be interesting as it is entitled The Washington Post Furthers Engagement, Conversation with New Website Design, and while that sounds boring I still read it for some reason. Here is what it says regarding comments to their articles online, and I quote:
“The enhanced comments system allows each Post article, column or blog to feature and highlight top commenters. While commenting is open to everyone, Washington Post editors and staffers identify select commenters, based on the quality of what they have previously posted, and invite them to take part in open forums around articles with other readers, Post reporters and columnists. Readers can also request to participate in these discussions.”
At first glance this seems to make sense, everyone who has an online site with commenting has to deal with messages that are often irrelevant. In other words I may receive a comment to this article that talks about ordering a new coffee machine at another site. That is just someone trying to obtain more visitors, more sales, and other advantages by commenting on articles and post even if completely off-topic. As an editor of a site you can have approval rights which allows you to approve or disapprove a comment. It can be held in a moderation queue. It is your site and you can do what you want.
Invitation Only Commentary
However I believe, although I may be totally wrong, that many perceive newspapers as a more open forum without any type of censorship. I can understand they do not want comments that are completely off topic and they can remove them if they like. I do not think that is the problem they are trying to solve with this feature. This features allows a moderator of the conversation to highlight top commenters and invite them to take part in what they call (ironically) open forums around articles. This is essentially a new type of commenting. This creates three categories of participants when we have been used to just two. There is the author(s) of the article, the commenters, and now an elite group of invitation only commenters.
Abuse of Invitation Only Commenters
Here is the potential problem. This allows the author of the article who may have a particular view to censor those that do not agree with them. It also allows the author to take it one step further and only allow initial comments to a select few individuals that they know already agree with them. This is not what I would expect from a newspaper which stands on free speech as it’s number one defense to any type of censorship placed upon them. Is this a good thing, bad thing, and what could or should be done?
Good, Bad, Solution?
I am not of the opinion that this feature should be abandoned. I actually find it very interesting and when utilized properly and not abused it may lead to a much more enjoyable debate and lively commentary for myself as a reader. Therefore I cannot say it is bad per se but should be openly disclosed. Whenever this type of moderated commenting is utilized I would hope they disclose openly and in an obvious way that the commenting has been moderated. I would also hope that the comments they may not have agreed with are not removed in the process or the newspaper, in my opinion, loses all credibility.
Now that I have said that, how do I implement that on my site? haha