When Comments Get Out of Hand, VenturaCountyStar.com Pulls the Plug

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By: E&P Staff

So much for participatory journalism. The Ventura County Star in Ventura, Calif., announced today that it has shut off comments on its Web site because the tone of those comments had grown too vicious and incendiary.

“Today we stopped live, unmoderated comments on the stories on our website,” wrote John Moore, assistant managing editor for new media and technology at the Star. “It’s a response to the abuse of the comments and, quite honestly, no one here involved in the decision is happy about having to do it. But it had to be done.”

Starting in January, the paper allowed readers to post comments to any story on its Website. The offering wasn’t publicized, but readers discovered it and the initiative soon took off.

“Wonderful conversations ensued,” Moore recounted. “Readers began talking with each other, offering opinions, raising the bar of discourse in the county. They were voices we didn’t normally hear from. The comments made many of us a little nervous. They were a little raw for our taste; language and opinions that we don’t normally see in print. But they were real. For awhile.”

Soon, though, the site’s managers discovered that race became a common thread. “Whether it was a school award or a crime, it seemed that the comments quickly devolved into a discussion of race and immigration,” Moore wrote. “We know that much of that is triggered by talk radio and its incessant blaming of societal problems on race. But it also showed what these readers were interested in talking about. So we let it run, deleting the comments that were profane or defamatory.”

Recently, that changed.

“The viciousness of the comments began to escalate,” according to Moore. “We found more and more of our time was being spent moderating the comments. With comments posted on dozens of stories, it ate up much of our day.” That’s when the Star’s staff decided to eliminate the comments.

But Moore would still like to see them come back, he said. “[W]e’re looking at ways to return comments that allow for the apparent controls that our readers need and don’t require us to hire a fulltime babysitter to monitor the comments,” Moore wrote in conclusion. “We want to bring them back. We hope we can do it.”

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