Say What?

The Times Union launched reader comments for news stories and other content this week. Some people think comments are pointless, but if it’s good enough for the New York Times, it’s probably good enough for your local paper.

Unlike the paper’s blog comment system, users must register for an account — and their registration actually requires quite a bit of personal information. This doesn’t mean you can’t have an alter ego, just that your alter ego will need a working email address and some other details attached.

Paul Block, the TU’s online executive producer, said in response to a reader’s feisty jabs, “Let’s hope for some positive discourse on our stories in the days to come.”

That’s an interesting statement from the people who built the area’s most abusive and corrosive online community. For years, the Times Union’s blogs were polluted with terrible comments — and the worst of all showed up in the blogs run by Times Union employees.

Recently they seem to have started weeding out the worst comments, which is encouraging. This is especially interesting since they’ve also stopped warning readers that comments with profanity or personal attacks will be rejected. Could it be that they are finally walking the walk, not just talking the talk?

Well, included in the item about the new commenting policy is this juicy tidbit: “Previously, commenting was limited to our blogs, and for now that system will remain unchanged and separate from the new website system. In time we plan to merge the two.”

Requiring registration will not fix blog comments completely, but would go a long way toward putting the cover back on the cesspool.

9 thoughts on “Say What?

  1. Did you note this piece in the announcement?

    “Previously, commenting was limited to our blogs, and for now that system will remain unchanged and separate from the new website system. In time we plan to merge the two.”

    If they plan to merge the two, that means that they’re moving away from the anonymous troll-fest model of their current blogs, presumably . . . it will be interesting to see the impact of that from a commercial standpoint . . .

    1. Thank you for pointing that out. I did notice it, but in my typical sloppy manner, forgot to include it! Added it at the end…

    1. Yes, I know.

      Some people have suggested that I’m preoccupied with the Times Union. That may be, but I think more people should take them to task for their stories and other content. There is pitifully little serious criticism or analysis of the newspaper — and for an institution with so much power, that’s a dangerous thing.

      Any organization, whether it be a government entity or private concern, with that degree of influence should be closely scrutinized. A major newspaper’s ability to sway public opinion in a given market is unrivaled — and yes, I believe newspapers do not always wield that power in a responsible manner.

      Amusingly, newspapers hate being criticised, this while their pages are filled with criticism of everything.

  2. I’m with Rob. Knowing how they dealt with me, on a foundation built originally upon friendships and a desire to collaborate and be helpful (as I’ve done with scores of other online portals over the years, without issue), makes me highly suspicious and skeptical of both their business model and their editorial rigor.

    They hold material I asked them to remove hostage to this day (including photos of my family), citing a release policy that basically gives them all rights to all material (including comments and anything else) that anybody ever puts up on their website.

    To me, when I accepted the terms of that agreement, the key point was “I will never seek compensation from you for what I give you” . . . . not “We will keep your stuff forever, even after you want to leave.” Yeah, the language allows for the latter position, more fool me, but I never expected a person who I thought was a friend to use that against me, since that has never happened to me before or since in any online transaction or creative relationship (and I have a LOT of them).

    They are a terrible newspaper, peddling terrible material under a terrible business model . . . which would be fine, if they wouldn’t try to couch all of their terrible decisions in terms of high-minded editorial posturing. I just get tired of them sticking the fork in print and online readers, over and over and over again, while telling us that it’s for our own good . . .

  3. Yee-ha! Grand times on the old blog farm!

    Don’t feel too bad. As a former Times Union blogger, trust me when I say you aren’t the only one who fell for the blogboss buddy-buddy bullshit. Below the slick veneer is someone as cynical and manipulative as they come.

    It’s tempting to use the whore/pimp comparison when talking about the relationship between the TU and its “community bloggers” but that would be unfair. Real whores understand who’s profiting from their work.

    1. I’m going to have trouble getting that image of the blog overlord dressed as a pimp out of my head…

      Having said that, I think “whore” is a bit harsh for the bloggers. You mention the phrase blog farm, which makes me think it might be more apt to describe the bloggers as share croppers, dependent on and beholden to the land owner who controls their livelihood. Yes, they benefit from the relationship, but the guy who owns the property reaps most of the benefits.

  4. I participated in one of the first Times Union public blog gatherings, and to this day, I think that watching Rob (with his Albany Eye experience) sitting up on the dais likening the whole free blog portal model to Tom Sawyer convincing his friends that only a “very special boy” could whitewash a fence correctly was one of the more prescient and sublime moments in my creative life . . .

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