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Washington Post Still Not Getting It


In her new column, “The Firestorm Over My Column,” the Washington Post’s Ombudsman, Deborah Howell says, “So is it the relative anonymity of the Internet that emboldens e-mailers to conduct a public stoning? Is this the increasing political polarization of our country? I don’t know.”

Both are true, but the problem with the Post’s comment section, as far as I can tell, wasn’t the fact that idiots were posting. It’s that the Post seems not to have set up the comment system with sufficient due diligence.

The newspaper didn’t respond to my e-mailed query, but I did hear from someone who read my previous posting on this bizarre controversy and has a reason to know what’s going on there. This person wrote:

I do not believe has any kind of registration system in place for comments. It’s basically a simple “enter name, enter comment, submit” system. There’s no e-mail check of any kind. And it’s definitely not linked to their site registration system.

In other words, they failed Blog Comments 101 (which so many media companies seem to do) by allowing freeform comments without forcing the commenter over any sort of hurdle that would provide accountability.


That’s putting it mildly.

To repeat what I said before, comments are worth the trouble, if done right. Why?

Because listening and responding are as important in tomorrow’s journalism as speaking. If we forget that, even bigger trouble lies ahead.

UPDATE: The New York Times’ media columnist, David Carr, also trashes the commenters. He ends his piece — with what he probably meant as an ironic touch, but comes off as merely arrogant — with an invitation to send comments via the U.S. Postal Service. “And don’t forget that the price of stamps just went up,” he taunts. Wow…

4 Comments on “Washington Post Still Not Getting It”

  1. #1 Craig McGinty
    on Jan 23rd, 2006 at 4:31 am

    Would a newspaper be willing to print a letter which had no name or address? Of course not.
    So why be so slack in not asking people to leave some sort of reference to who they are?
    It is as though the Washington Post didn’t want comments to work so they could at least say ‘well we tried, but look what happens’.

  2. #2 jonl
    on Jan 23rd, 2006 at 6:39 am

    High volume comment sites, just like sites with forums, inevitably need some form of moderation or monitoring, but that need is mitigated somewhat by an authentication requirement. The need’s still there, though, and often overlooked. My guess is that the Post didn’t budget for comment moderation and didn’t know where to find skilled moderators, so they backed off. An authentication requirement and 8 hrs/day of moderation, along with a real commitment to interactivity, would solve their problem.

  3. #3 Weblogsky
    on Jan 23rd, 2006 at 6:49 am

    Dan Gillmor on Washington Post Comments…

    Dan Gillmor’s been posting about the Washington Post’s removal of comments capabiltiy from its blog. In his latest on the subject, Dan says that the Post failed to set up its comment system with sufficient due diligence. They allowed freeform……

  4. #4 Leslie
    on Jan 23rd, 2006 at 12:23 pm

    Dan — Thanks for the thoughtful commentary on the WaPo situation, which I referenced in my own blog post on the subject. Just like the wikitorial problem at the LA Times last summer, this issue raises profound questions regarding the balance between editorial integrity and open dialog. By closing down comments on the site all the Post did was shut down the conversation. They missed an opportunity to turn critics into loyal readers. Traditional media organizations need to realize that “the horse has left the barn”. This isn’t just about editorial … it’s about survival.