Continuing our conversation on local news sites and their policies concerning the removal of people’s comments, it’s been brought to my attention that the recently launched AnnArbor.com site is already making good on their promise to “aggressively moderate” the contributions of their readers. Apparently, yesterday, reader comments following a short article on the tragic death of a local cyclist began disappearing. Monitors, however, to their credit, were quick to acknowledge their actions. The following comment was left in the thread by AnnArbor.com’s Cindy Heflin:
Some comments on this story have been removed because they assign blame to one side or another or they are discussing whether bikers or drivers are inconsiderate of each other. If you’d like to discuss that topic, please start a conversation on the blog. If you want to discuss comment moderation on this site, please post comments here:http://www.annarbor.com/about/comment-moderation-guidelines-meant-to-cultivate-community-forum/
Unfortunately, not all the comments removed from this particular thread had to do with bikers and drivers being inconsiderate of one another. Following is one of the comments, left by someone calling himself AAbob43, that was removed from the thread by moderators.
I read this bicyclist story via the “AnnArbor.Com” newsletter. I was invited to subscribe to that newsletter, and it was sent to me by AA.Com. The “headline” of today’s newsletter was the bicyclist story. I clicked the link for more information, and was directed to a screen full of Wolverine football info. So, the link was defective, and in this somber case, troubling. I then found the “rest of the story” on the bicyclist by navigating my way through the “news” tab. I was troubled to see that AA.Com had reported only 74 or so words on this story. Meanwhile, there was a wealth of information via the posts of individuals who had been at the accident site. The reporter had included no such information. I then posted a comment complaining about the defective link and skimpy journalism. I received an e-mail from Jim Knight of AA.Com. It said that “I took your comment down from the thread because it’s not on topic.” I then called Jim. We had a frank discussion about defective links (Jim had not reviewed the AA.Com newsletter, and was surprised at the erroneous link.) We also discussed the content (or lack of content) in the story. Jim indicated that AA.Com was waiting for the official police verison before reporting more, and observed that eyewitnesses can be unreliable. I find this frightening. If AA.Com is going to wait for the official police version of events before reporting to the community, we won’t need AA.Com. We can just accept whatever the police tell us and be done with it. What does it say if AA.Com won’t report on eyewitness information, especially when the same information was corroborated by numerous citizens? Meanwhile this morning, I have read the Detroit Free Press online, and have read the New York Times in print. The latter, of course, pretty much sets the standard in journalism. And for those on the right, I’ll read the Wall Street Journal in an hour or so (also an excellent paper.) I am very concerned over the future of “journalism” in Ann Arbor. I read a story pertaining to a bicyclist’s death (I am an avid cycler.) I got U of M football instead. When I found the “story” it was more of an anaecdote. I expressed concern about exactly that “story” and had those comments deleted by AA.Com because they were not “on topic.” And finally, I was told that more info had to await the police version of things. Wow.
To the credit of AnnArbor.com, however, this comment was eventually reposted to the thread, along with the following letter from editor Tony Dearing.
AAbob, your comment has been reposted here, and I’d like to address your concerns. I apologize for the incorrect link in the newsletter. We are taking steps to prevent it from occurring again. You can read more about that here: http://www.annarbor.com/about/our-daily-newsletter-has-experienced-some-problems—we-promise-well-improve/
As for the story, Jim Knight did not mean to convey that we don’t talk to eye-witnesses or gather information from the scene of an incident. We did have a reporter at the scene, and there were no eye-witnesses present while he was there. As eye-witnesses commented on the story later, we should have tracked them down and talked to them. On this story, we fell short of what you expect and what I expect, in terms of continuing to follow and develop the story. In terms of removing comments, we do remove those that are off-topic, but if someone is questioning our reporting on the story, that comment should remain up on the site, and we should respond to concerns about our stories, as I am doing here. That is how we will handle such comments moving forward.
While I continue to have issues with AnnArbor.com’s aggressive moderation, I’m encouraged by Dearing’s response to this particular reader, and I think it marks a move in a positive direction. As I’ve indicated previously, this question of what gets removed and when is going to be incredibly difficult one for the folks at AnnArbor.com to work though, and, I think the success of the entire enterprise hangs in the balance. As this particular thread demonstrates (the thread includes several incredibly vivid comments from eye-witnesses of the accident), there’s enormous potential here, if moderators are able cultivate a readership that feels respected. And, based on what I’ve seen with regard to the treatment of this one comment, I think they may have a shot of pulling it off.
Speaking of online conversations taking place on local news sites, my friend Tim has a brilliant piece on his site tonight about a recent MLive.com discussion on the new bike racks popping up around Ann Arbor. The post, which does a wonderful job of weaving together various threads, ends with a link to the blog of Tim’s cousin Julie, who is presently battling an aggressive form of cancer. The following clip, which I absolutely love, comes from her. (I can’t stop reading her site tonight.)
… When I was ten, summer meant riding our bikes to Rainbow Park with sack lunches tied to our backs, our tires wobbly on the dirt trail by the chain link fence where that one stinkin dog always barked and tried to get our pedals. We (we being me, my sister Angie and usually one or two of our neighborhood friends) threw down our bikes at the big meadowy hill and chowed sandwiches and Capri Sun. Then I think we played tetherball, but I might be wrong about this.
We returned home sweaty and tired, having raced on the way home, with Cindy Smith trying to win by doing that bobbing thing up the hills. Our kickstands melted into the asphalt of the driveway (the next day my brother would measure the depth of the kickstand hole and compare it to previous days). We stuck our heads in the freezer until our mom yelled at us to get out of the kitchen while she tried to make Beef Stoganoff in the electric skillet.
I went to bed sweaty again, probably, but happy knowing that we could do the very exact thing tomorrow if we wanted to.
Growing older, of course, brings more responsibility and perhaps less freedom, but summer always has that free edge. Margaritas with dinner outside on a patio, camping in the middle of some woods right next to your car, no jacket, swimming, popsicles in the middle of the day. Screen doors.
Dare I complain from my beautiful little garden room? Dare I open the pretty french doors and scream bloody murder?
I am attached to a pain pump and a catheter which drains my left lung. And I just want to go swimming. A long fast swim like at swim team in 7th grade. A 20 foot deep bottom search at Lannon Quarry where I was a lifeguard and swim instructor with pretty pink lungs and a whistle. A leisurely sidestroke with my Gramma in her inground pool (pick the apple, put it in the basket; pick the apple, put it in the basket). A crazy handholding bobjumping headgoinunder with my daughter, Luka, as we swam around Creston Pool. Mama and Baby Fish…
My thoughts tonight are with Julie and her family, as well as the family of the man who died here yesterday, on his bike, as he peddled home to see them. I wish I had fitting words to offer, but everything just seems so trite. The world seems to be such an incredibly cruel and arbitrary place sometimes. It’s hard to believe that life goes on in spite of it. I suppose we should find that comforting somehow. I’m having a hard time seeing it right now, though.