Scott MacKay on the De-enhancement of Journalism
As an active local blogger, departing Projo reporter Scott MacKay’s citation of the Projo’s decision to allow anonymous and largely-unmoderated commenting on the Projo’s news blogs as contributing to his decision to take his employer’s buyout offer, quoted by Ian Donnis at the Not for Nothing blog, naturally caught my eye. The two-deep quotes are from MacKay, the intervening statement is from Donnis…
There are multiple issues here. One is the wisdom of allowing anonymous commenting and its associated problems. The anonymous commenting that many blogs provide does tend to get abused and maintaining a civil and worthwhile flow in a comments section is a continuing battle for any blog moderator.“The emphasis has been on the web site, which would be fine if the same standards applied to the web as those that govern the newspaper. If one sends a letter to the editor commenting on a story, that person must sign his or her name. Abusive language is not permitted.”Yet MacKay points to two “ridiculous examples of how the standards of the Providence Journal have dropped,” including “a racist comment published [as a comment] on our web site after the death of Eileen Slocum.” The other, also a blog comment, was made (and later deleted) about a local athlete.“This is the kind of thing [editor] Joel Rawson used to warn about. Since his departure, the newspaper has apparently diluted its standards to the point where none should call it journalism.”
But beyond that, there’s a larger issue involved: why should what appears in a mostly open discussion forum attached to a news story, even in a forum that allows for anonymous commenting, be seen as detracting from the “journalism” of a newspaper website? The idea that presenting unfiltered comments to the public on journalism somehow hurts journalism itself seems to rely on some questionable assumptions about the value of journalism, that it resides not in the information being provided, but rather in the access to the public that established journalistic organizations control. After all, the information in a good story remains there for the public to learn about, whether or not nutty comments are added beneath it, right?
Moving over to a different medium, aren’t the old-line journalistic objections to talk-radio in Rhode Island rooted in a similar conception that access and not information is the real source of journalistic value, and that talk-radio allows people outside of the establishment journalistic elite, from hosts to callers, to control their own access to the eyes and ears of the public?