Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Comments welcome?

I must admit, ever since The Prince online edition became a carbon copy of the nytimes.com, I've been a bit skeptical of some of its changes, but none more so than the new 'comments' option.

My main beef with comments is that, while fun and engaging, they also tend to degrade the civility of the conversation, especially if there is no ownership for one's viewpoints. Left unchecked, comments become no different than graffiti - uninformed, anonymous, and (at times) hurtful statements - that do little to advance the public discourse.

That said, I am reassured by our counterparts in the Web department at the New York Times, who are experiencing much of the same frustration with their comments option as I do. This recent post by Kate Phillips in the 'Caucus' blog serves to highlight that point - and I think all readers of the Princetonian online edition would benefit by hearing what Ms. Phillips has to say.

In the same spirit, I believe that The Prince should, at the very least, institute some sort of 'Guideline for Publishing Comments' page on their website, or do a better job of moderating online discussions. And should more desperate measures prove necessary, the web team should mandate NetID registration on comments to screen out pesky anonymous responses (and bring in informed ones).

Either way, we simply cannot allow the current comments option to stand. Comments can never substitute for a well thought-out, personally-accountable, good-ole' fashioned Letter to the Editor - and they never will.


[On another note, being able to comment immediately to news stories makes blogs like 'The Prox' look increasingly irrelevant... but such is the price of progress, ain't it not?]


Martha Vega said...

I'm not sure the ability to post comments immediately actually renders a blog less useful--blogs, by virtue of their format, serve a very different purpose.

But, I agree with you that the anonymous comments often read like the comments one finds on Ivy Gate, hardly a high compliment. I'm not entirely sure, however, that requiring people to post non-anonymous comments is the answer. For one thing, that would equate the comments to uncensored letters to the editor, which are of course signed. There's another point to consider, and that's in the value of anonymity. A closeted student may not want to sign his or her name to a comment about his/her own experience with homophobia on campus, but that does not render the point less useful. Likewise, a conservative student with an openly gay friend may not want to blemish his or her friendship by putting his or her personal beliefs on paper.

Nor would a more dedicated moderator necessarily be the answer. I see no point in having a comments function if those comments are to be censored. (Provided that those comments are relevant to the article or some other point at hand. I see nothing wrong with deleting a hateful non sequitur.)

That said, it might be useful to have a sort of vague guideline--a reminder that people ought to be respected, and that posters ought to remember that though anonymous, they're still representing Princeton and the Daily Prince. Alternately, the web admins might institute a policy of semi-anonymous comments, whereby readers are required to have a unique user name in order to post, but need not give any personal information. This would ensure a consistency of posting and allow for a more easily targeted attack against spammers and flamers, while protecting the benefits of anonymous posters.