to practice aggressive moderation

When it was announced earlier this spring that the venerable, old Ann Arbor News would be going out of business to be reborn as a primarily online entity known as, there weren’t a lot of details given. Echoing the heady days before the dotcom crash, we were told that the new venture would be exciting and groundbreaking, and we learned that print versions would be available on Thursdays and Sundays, but that was about the extent of it. Now that a bit of time has passed, though, we’re starting to get some vague idea of what this new hybrid print-web news-blog creature might actually look like.

In a presentation last week, Content Director Tony Dearing said that the organization would be staffed by “trained, professional journalists,” and have a total of 30 to 35 employees. (As one assumes that count includes all of the pressmen, sales people, and the like, it’s still unclear to me as to how many of these trained and professional journalists there are going to be, but there will be some.) And, he mentioned, they would be using freelancers to round out their local coverage, as well as partnering with other organizations to provide non-local news. We also learned that hiring at the new organization had already begun, that the plan is to really go live with the new site on July 20 (there’s a kind of placeholder site now, with a few posts), and that the first print issue would come out Sunday, July 26.

And, in addition to this slide deck, there is a short video clip on the site, of Tony Dearing answering a question about whether or not the site, once it launches in earnest, would allow for anonymous comments. Dearing said that they would, but, he added, they would moderate the comments aggressively. Here’s the clip:

And this is what’s interesting me tonight. I’m sitting here wondering what Dearing means when he talks about aggressive moderation. Does he mean that they’ll be deleting posts that they find contentious? Does it mean that they’ll be blocking the IP addresses of those known to turn every discussion into one about Israel and Palestine? Or, does it mean that there will be a strong, consistent voice of authority always at the ready to swoop in and put bad actors in their place?

While I appreciate his desire to establish an online community where substantive, respectful discussions are had – he says he wants to establish as the local, online “grown-ups table” – I wonder to what extent aggressive moderation might be at odds with their other stated desire, which is to create, as he mentions in another slide, “a place where people can contribute content and gain and share information and opinions on whatever is important in their lives.” As you know from reading the comments here at, what some folks consider important is often at odds with the general sentiment of the audience. Anyway, it seems to me, as someone who has run an online community for over six years now, that fostering an environment where everyone feels empowered to speak may be somewhat inconsistent with aggressive moderation.

Furthermore, given the way Dearing answers the question – by saying that he’s talked with someone who has actually established an online community – I don’t have a great deal of confidence that he appreciates what he’s getting into. And, I should add at this point that I desperately want this new enterprise to succeed. I think it’s imperative if we want this region to prosper and grow that we have a functioning, active press with the resources to conduct real investigations and hold people’s feet to the fire when necessary. With that said, however, I’m wondering how gracefully this group will make the transition to the web. Sure, it may be like the newspaper business in some ways, but it’s very much dissimilar in others. Online, for instance, you can’t pick and choose which letters to print. You have to print them all. And, if you don’t, people won’t respect you for long. They certainly won’t continue to contribute.

Here’s an interesting scenario… Let’s say someone leaves a negative comment about an advertiser. Do Dearing and company remove the comment? If they do, I don’t think they’ll be long for this market.

To some degree, I think, you have to give up a bit of control to be successful in this new world.

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  1. Brackinald Achery
    Posted May 27, 2009 at 10:36 pm | Permalink

    Proof once again that everyone should carry a gun.

  2. Furball
    Posted May 27, 2009 at 11:22 pm | Permalink

    I do like it when you talk about aggressive moderation. Grrrr! Almost as much as I like it when that man-beast Brackinald talks about the big banger beneath his belt line.

    I CAN’T WAIT to be “moderated” by those bottled up animals at the snooze.

    I want to be everywhere and anywhere that darling Dearing is.

  3. Posted May 28, 2009 at 5:52 am | Permalink

    On second thought, maybe aggressive moderation is a good thing.

  4. Paw
    Posted May 28, 2009 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    Aggressive moderation perfectly describes my philosophy on drinking.

    As for the News, I think that they’re gong to have a tough go of it online if they try to enforce order. The successful blogs are those that welcome input from all directions and create a culture of self-policing, where those who step out of line are chastised by their fellow readers, not by management. People need to feel ownership. Having the voice of big brother telling you what you can and cannot say won’t work.

  5. Steven
    Posted May 28, 2009 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    “Your comment is awaiting aggressive moderation”

  6. Posted May 28, 2009 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    “Aggressive moderation perfectly describes my philosophy on drinking”

    What a line, Paw! That was nice…

    And lines like that from commenters (and thought provoking/stimulating posts like this) are why I like hanging out in these threads that are just the right size rather than something like the freep, whose threads/comments after articles are almost unreadable and have way too many comments.

    As far as policing, I would have faith enough in the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti community readers to sort of self-monitor the threads and let it go where it’s going to go organically. It has to be some sort of misunderstanding that they would monitor/delete the comments, right?

  7. West Cross
    Posted May 28, 2009 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    I for one blame the Jews and the Muslims.

    Wait…what are we talking about?

  8. Lisa
    Posted May 28, 2009 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    Aggressive moderation? I thought you were describing their political philosophy…

    I think they are going to have to step up the moderation to get people to read it. Have any of you ever read the mlive comments? Having a bunch of comments like the ones posted there could make the entire operation shut down in two weeks flat. Blogs have an element of self-selection, whereas a general news site attracts the crazies/grumpies/random posties.

  9. Posted May 28, 2009 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    I couldn’t find it last night when I was writing the post, but not too long ago I remember seeing video of a publisher quite eloquently defending his company’s policy regarding comments. They didn’t edit anything, and I recall liking the guy. I think it would have made a nice counterpoint to this… Anyway, I just don’t think the folks at the A2News.20 appreciate what they’re getting into, even though they’ve “talked” to someone who’s done this.

  10. Ypsilanti Comfort
    Posted May 28, 2009 at 7:02 pm | Permalink sux


  11. Posted May 28, 2009 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

    OK, here’s what that would look like under aggressive moderation… suckles
    private area
    oral pleasure giver
    mother fudge

  12. Posted May 28, 2009 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

    I’ve decided to position myself as the and practice moderate aggression.

  13. Brackinald Achery
    Posted May 28, 2009 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

    Passive extremism is quite nice too. Makes you feel smarter and more persecuted than everyone else without actually having to do anything.

  14. Ol' E Cross
    Posted May 28, 2009 at 11:32 pm | Permalink

    Personally, I go down for aggressive passive moderate extremism. Makes you smarter and more persecuted than everyone else without having to actually feel anything.

  15. Posted May 29, 2009 at 5:35 am | Permalink

    I don’t disagree with the idea that you have to moderate comments at least some of the time and you have to have some rules. I learned my lessons a couple times over on, especially when things got super-duper heated with one topic or another. Though Dearing’s word choices of “aggressive moderation” is poor.

    But I have to say this guy sounds like someone who has kind of heard of the blogs and the internets and is deciding to have a go at it. I haven’t been following the development of too closely, but Dearing doesn’t inspire much of a “I know what I’m doing” vibe, IMO.

  16. Ypsilanti Comfort
    Posted May 29, 2009 at 7:41 am | Permalink

  17. Michael S
    Posted June 11, 2009 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    Can anyone here describe what exactly trips the “Your comment is awaiting moderation.”-message on this site? Is it the html formatting? Can some of the formatting be used without tripping the message?

    I ask this because I have submitted comments that are only marginally humorous at the time I type them (and probably only to me), but are definitely not funny at all by the time Mark gets a chance to approve them.

  18. Michael S
    Posted June 11, 2009 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    OK, now I’ve narrowed it down to that I may have tripped the moderation because I only used the first letter of my last name, whereas on my previous comments that went through instantly, I used my full name. This is unfortunate because the purpose of my use of the multiple screen names was not to deceive, but only because there are some comments I will stand behind personally – and then there’s the ones I don’t particularly want my mother to see were coming from me.

    This is starting to get embarrassing as I should have emailed you regarding my questions rather than clogging up your line queued for moderation. Go ahead and delete all these comments and I apologize for wasting your time in this manner.

  19. Michael Schils
    Posted June 19, 2009 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    This thread is mentioned by Tony Dearing at

    He says on his site, you won’t be able to say things like, “Yeah, I’d like to do her’.

  20. Michaelx
    Posted June 19, 2009 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

    Mark, he called your blog an “impressive array of vulgarities”.

    I think you should go kick his ass.

  21. Michaelx
    Posted June 19, 2009 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

    Mr. Dearing is showing a remarkable lack of a sense of humor.

    I think “Dork say what?’ is funny enough not to delete.’

  22. Mr W
    Posted July 17, 2009 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    Breaking News……..


    Website Expected to Launch Friday July 24; Twice-Weekly Print Newspaper Will Debut On-Schedule on Sunday July 26 on Newsstands and by Delivery
    ANN ARBOR, MI, July 17, 2009 – LCC will delay the launch of its website, originally scheduled for Monday July 20, due to weaknesses revealed today in the site’s underlying technology. The website is expected to launch Friday, July 24 with these technology issues corrected, and the first edition of’s twice-weekly print newspaper will appear on schedule on Sunday, July 26, and will run every Thursday and Sunday thereafter.

    Testing on the website revealed early Friday that changes will need to be made to the website’s underlying technology to ensure that it will be able to handle the expected volume of traffic. Left unfixed, the problem could cause the site to crash for some users.

    “As we were moving towards launch day and were going through all the various site testing protocols, we uncovered a problem that could cause some readers to have an experience that in my mind is unacceptable. I decided that in order to provide the people of Ann Arbor with the best user experience on launch, the site would need a few extra days of refinement,” says Matt Kraner President and Chief Executive Officer of “I realize that this change will inconvenience readers and marketing partners who were looking forward to the site’s launch on Monday, and for that I apologize. While we don’t expect perfection on day one, there is a minimum standard that our readers and marketing partners deserve.”
    As strives to be wholly of, by and for the Ann Arbor community, the site is taking a proactive approach in alerting all interested parties of the reasons behind the delay.

    “Despite this minor setback, everyone at remains very optimistic and excited about the launch on Friday and looks forward to the community’s feedback,” adds Kraner.

    Community input, questions about the new site and suggestions can be sent to

5 Trackbacks

  1. […] few weeks ago, in a post about the soon-to-be-launched site, I suggested that perhaps Tony Dearing, their Content Director, was a bit naïve when he suggested that they […]

  2. […] that the recently launched site is already making good on their promise to “aggressively moderate” the contributions of their readers. Apparently, yesterday, reader comments following a short […]

  3. […] a while since we here in this wretched hive of scum and villainy have discussed the form of “aggressive moderation” being practiced by our friends at As I’m sympathetic to their situation, […]

  4. […] knowledge of the situation says the timing would indicate as much. As he recalls, Content Director Tony Dearing said in May of 2009 that they had two years to demonstrate to their superiors at Advance […]

  5. […] decision, just as I’d given them shit for their decision, back at the beginning, to “aggressively moderate” the comments left by their readers, but I can sympathize with their predicament. As they […]

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