Published on Webdiary - Founded and Inspired by Margo Kingston (/cms)

Editorial Policy

By admin
Created 24/10/2005 - 21:20

Margo redrafted these guidelines for the new site, and we'll stick by them, subject to your input:

G'day. Since I started Webdiary in 2000, I've envisaged it as a space for civil discourse between Australians of different political viewpoints – a democratic conversation. I was heavily influenced in this idea by my experience covering Pauline Hanson's 1998 election campaign, when it became heartbreakingly clear to me that Australia was two nations, the inhabitants of which seemed unable to understand what the other was talking about, let alone have a chat about it. I wrote about this in my book Off the Rails: the Pauline Hanson Trip (see Chapter 18, We're all poor lean people and we're bangin' on your gate [1]).

Thus, Webdiary's Charter states, in part, that its mission is "to help meet the unmet demand of some Australians for conversations on our present and our future, and to spark original thought and genuine engagement with important issues which effect us all, to link thinking Australians whoever they are and wherever they live and to insist that thinking Australians outside the political and economic establishment have the capacity to contribute to the national debate".

I am a small l liberal by inclination. I hold my views strongly, and one of them is that people with different views to me have the right to be respectfully heard and engaged with on Webdiary. To that end, in 2003 I published Webdiary ethics [1], which adapts the Media Alliance Code of Ethics for Journalists to meet the online experience and sets out my expectations of Webdiary contributors ethically. Here are my expectations of Webdiary contributors:

As a journalist I have ethical obligations to readers; as a contributor you do not. Still, there are a few guidelines I'd like you to follow.

1. If you don't want to use your real name, use a nom de plume and briefly explain, for publication, why you don't want to use your real name. Please send me your real name on a confidential basis if you choose to use a nom de plume. I will not publish attacks on other contributors unless your real name is used.

2. Disclose affiliations which you think could reasonably be perceived to affect what you write. For example, if you are writing about politics, disclose your membership of a political party.

3. Don't plagiarise, that is don't use the ideas of others without telling us where they came from, and don't copy the writings of others and pass them off as your own. There is no need. Put quotes around the words of other people, and tell us who they are and where you got them from. If you've used online sources for your contributions, include the links so others can follow them up.

4. Be truthful. Don't invent 'facts'. If you're caught out, expect to be corrected in Webdiary

5. Robust debate is great, but don't indulge in personal attacks on other contributors.

6. Write in the first person. Remember, we're having a conversation here.

[Added August 2007] It follows from the guidelines above that a question on the identity of other Webdiarists should be taken up with the editors, who will make whatever checks they consider necessary, but such questions will not be allowed within published comments, as it may be necessary to protect the identity of some Webdiarists, and in the classic double-bind of these things, answering only some questions on identity openly exposes the ones we can't answer openly.

From 2000 to August 2004 Webdiary's process for reader participation was through emails to me, which I cut and paste into my Webdiary entries. It was a cumbersome process, to say the least, as more and more emails came in. Sometimes, when interest was very high, like post-Tampa and during the led up to war in Iraq, I couldn't even read them all, and advised Webdiarists accordingly.My policy was to run all emails critical of me or Webdiary except those which were obscene or content free abuse. Apart from that, I picked emails relevant to the topics I was pursuing at the time and did not run emails which I felt breached Webdiary's ethics.

In September 2004 Fairfax handed over all responsibility for Webdiary to me via a new discrete Webdiary self-publishing system as part of my move from employee to contractor (see New Webdiary, frustrated Webdiarists [2]). The new system provided for reader comments, and reader contributions exploded.

The new system challenged my editorial policy on reader contributions, and I struggled to adapt for months. At first, my policy was skewed heavily towards free speech whatever the downside. Some Webdiarists stopped commenting, telling me the space no longer felt safe due to the level of personal abuse I published. Thus, my free speech bent started to impact adversely on my goal for Webdiary, to facilitate civil democratic conversation on important issues for Australia among people of differing views.

Early this year the comments volume became so great that I could no longer both process comments and write for Webdiary, and I employed long time Webdiarist Jack Robertson [3] to be Webdiary's comment manager. Jack did the hard work tightening up our publishing guidelines to make the space safer for all participants and ensure that debate was civil. He even instituted a temporary 'red card' system to force the issue. Jack drafted discussion guidelines, called a 'no abuse trial', and reported to readers on how it was working. Much commentary from readers ensued. See Jack R to pull beers at Club Chaos [4], Webdiary discussion guidelines [5] and Webdiary 'no abuse' trial - week one [6].

Here are the guidelines I've carried over to our permanent home:

Posts that contain personal abuse of another Webdiarist will not be published. Serial offenders may be permanently banned.

'Personal abuse' is a difficult and subjective notion, but the following are likely to be so:

a. any criticism of a Webdiarist's actual or imagined physical appearance or characteristic (voice, inherent intellect), or non-physical qualities over which they have no immediate control (writing ability, education level, life or work experience);

b. posts which contain sneering or foul-language criticism of views and opinions, as opposed to witty and pithy critiques;

c. criticisms that depend for their sting even obliquely on a Webdiarist's specific (known or imagined) sexuality, gender, race, religion or nationality;

d. most criticisms that assign a pejorative adjective or noun to a person rather than an adjective or an adverb to that person's actions (including the action of expressing of an opinion);

Another useful guide to apply when deciding whether or not your post is 'personally abusive' is to ask yourself: 'would I be prepared to make this comment face-to-face to my fellow Webdiarist if we were standing at the bar of Club Chaos?'

Since then, I've found that more women have joined the conversation, and that debate has become more civil. The idea is simple – respect other people's points of view, and strive to engage with them on the merits. Passion is cool, and so is respect. If you think you've been unfairly edited, or that we've wrongly refused to publish your comments, please feel free to query our decision by posting a comment. This sometimes happens, and leads to an online discussion of the meaning and interpretation of the guidelines.

Next year I will set up a system whereby Webdiarists who feel hard done by can complain to someone other than me. That person, a Webdiary Ombudsman, will have their own section where he or she would publish non-frivolous complaints, my response, and their views on the matter. That way we can flesh out the guidelines as different issues arise.

Since September 2004 I have banned several people from Webdiary when I am satisfied that they are not commenting in good faith, but rather to destroy the safety of the space for the civil debate I'm seeking to foster. I will also ban people who make allegations of unethical conduct by me and refuse to either substantiate or withdraw their claims on request. I am a member of the Media Alliance, and for several years I've published the Alliance Code of Ethics for journalists and invited people who believe I have breached the code to complain to the Alliance, which has a process for determining ethical complaints against its members. Given that this process is in place, I won't put up with cheap allegations of unethical behaviour from me. I take such allegations very seriously, and expect those who make them to do the same. Respect for others includes respect for me. Banned posters will also be able to complain to Webdiary's Ombudsman.

Fiona Reynolds and Richard Tonkin moderate Webdiary comments. We do not delete any comment posted to Webdiary, and the statistics of how many comments we don't publish and why are provided regularly by Webdiary's managing director David Roffey in comments to his management updates [6]). To date we have published 97% of comments posted to the independent Webdiary.

Webdiary will not publish comments or host discussion on the following matters:

1. Denial of the existence of the holocaust.
2. Allegations that a Western power or powers were behind the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001
3. "False flag" theories.

Why these three? It isn't just because of the content, but also because experience of these debates tells us that in fact no debate is possible: the two (or more) sides endlessly repeat the same arguments to which the other side isn't listening. There are plenty of sites around devoted to these subjects where the interminable repetition is welcome: go debate them there. When you're there, remember that the complete lack of any evidence just shows how well the conspiracy is working. Obviously it can be difficult to draw the line, particularly when debating 9/11, and that can lead to some inconsistencies between editors, but that's life.


Discussion guidelines are always a work in progress, and your input is always welcome.

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