Here’s another plea for news sites to require registration and some expectation of real identity from site participants.
But if news is moving from being a lecture to a conversation with readers, then readers must be as transparent and play by the same ethical rules as the media. Certainly, unfettered, ugly, racist, personal and similar sorts of rants do not contribute to civic discourse, but rather undermine it.
If we believe that professional journalism, however it might evolve, has value in the modern media world, then we need to accept a role that goes beyond merely posting the news.
We need to:
- Start conversations — conversation starters includes our journalism, the things we relate and report, but we should also be offering context and questions that help guide conversations;
- Participate in the conversation — be active in the conversations we start, adding context, information and clarifications as necessary;
- Set standards — We make the rules, we enforce them, we offer guidance (including providing some ethical context) for civil, constructive participation, and we set the example for participation.
If we do these things, pre-screening comments becomes largely unnecessary. Healthy moderator participation — and I’ve had a lot of experience doing this — squelches most uncivil participation.
Technical solutions also play a role:
- “Require” real identity (100 percent enforcement impossible, but the effort will go a long way toward keeping people civil;
- Use reputation tools, such as thumbs up/down on posts and hiding unpopular posts;
- Tie participation to socially networked profiles, which brings about greater transparency on identity and persona;
- Make first-time participants go through moderation and e-mail validation;
- Let banned users post, but hide their comments from everybody but themselves.
Part of the new responsibility of the modern journalist, of the wired news organization, is to foster a locally focus online community. It is our job, the way I see it, that we should be hosting all of the most important discussions in our communities. This isn’t just an audience growth strategy (though it will do that), it is part of our charter. In a way, it always has been.
The people in our communities know stuff. They’re smart. They have insights. They often have a greater institutional knowledge than many of the people on a newspaper staff. They can help other members of the community — including the paid journalists — grow, learn and understand. They can help us all make better decisions, whether it’s about who to vote for or which charity to support.
The whole community can become smarter through the conversations we host.
Isn’t it appropriate that a journalistic organization, which I’ve always believed has an obligation to illuminate and inform, should be the hub of community conversation?
If we look at online conversation from this higher-responsibility prism, then don’t we have an obligation to not only host the conversation, but to ensure we do our level best to keep the conversation civil and constructive.
If that is the case, then we need to do everything we can to keep the bad actors, the disruptors and the trolls out of our conversations.
This is why I support real identity for participation. And this is why I believe that every journalist has an obligation to be digitally literate. Real identity is necessary to a journalisticly sound conversation (it’s a matter of ethics and transparency), and only digitally literate journalists can be master conversation guides, leaders and participants.
And being a participant should be henceforth written into every reporter and editors job description.
UPDATE: I forgot to include appropriate credit — link via Martin Stabe.