|Webdiary - Independent, Ethical, Accountable and Transparent|
All things in moderation
Hi. It's Hamish. It is the end of the first week of a new Webdiary, anxious and exciting. There is someone who has been working as hard as anybody for the past month who, probably for this reason, still hasn't had the indulgence the rest of us have in our, 'Opening Statements'. Kerri Browne, the Comments Manager of this site, has been on the coalface of Webdiary throughout this period when Margo has been in negotiation with Fairfax and many of us have been working hard to get the present site into condition. This is also her debut piece for Webdiary. Welcome Kerri, and thank you! Hamish Alcorn, Webdiary's Transition Manager.
Put yourself in my shoes
It is with pleasure and honour that I sit at this keyboard and moderate comments that come through Webdiary. Between Margo, myself, Hamish, Roger, Craig, Polly, Russell, Caroline and guest others we read and edit every post that ricochets its way from you through the internet to the Webdiary comments list. And between you and me, there's no other media mob in Australia I'd rather work at this crucial place in time.
And there's no other group I'd rather work for than you, dear Webdiarists. You educate me, make me laugh, inform me, get me thinking. You have my fingers flying like cinders when the threads run hot and I enjoy my amateur tracking of the correlation between peaks in flaming to phases of the moon... Sometimes I wonder who's got out of the wrong side of someone else's bed that morning, at other times the gentle pleasant banter between friends warms my proverbial cockles.
I spent a month as an interested bystander watching over Hamish's shoulder before I was invited onto the keyboard. During that time I asked him how could he not get irate at what X was saying when Y had proved that yadda yadda... how could he edit so impartially when he read the facts about... why didn't he explain to A that what B said was... I couldn't grasp his detachment - words are bullets and he as comments editor with Margo and others was in the line of fire from 200 different directions and they were herding them, softening the shrapnel, filtering the dum-dums and directing them as best they could to their targets. The editors helped people argue! How? I demanded. It's a zen, he replied.
He's right. It's a zen. It's about walking in everybody's shoes as far as possible all the time. After a while you become lightfooted in a metaphorical sense and see above the points of view to realise it's not the points but the vision that matters. The points merely illustrate the panorama and that is why overt point-scoring is frowned upon - too much and the panorama becomes like a target range. If you wanna change the scene, don't shoot holes in it, paint a better picture...
I believe that 95% of the people reading this post envision a better picture for themselves and others.
That figure comes from the 95% of the posts I moderate that I reckon are generally well meaning comments from honourable (if ocassionally bad tempered) people. Blatantly abusive posts get my blood boiling momentarily at the ill-mannered rudeness and I seem to hold my breath when clicking the irreversible delete button. But more than one or two abusive diatribes at a time is rare apart from a possible weekly alcohol wave (or maybe that's just me).
There has been some discussion about comments management since moving homes. We editors have one of those 'invisible' jobs: unless you are privy to the 'before' and 'after', you rarely know we've done anything at all. This thread is to take you inside the task of managing comments to see why we do what we do, and how we do it; to discuss ways in which we together can make Webdiary an even more productive and professional forum.
Who reads other discussion forums? Those who have sought good political conversation will know they are very rare. Well mannered inclusive unmoderated political and social internet discussion forums that actively seek to accommodate all views on the spectrum are like thylacine. We hope they are out there but does anyone have a screenshot? Those who understand the quality and rarity of Webdiary recognise that it is impossible to achieve without some form of moderation.
Neil Maydom gave me the idea for this thread then Bill Avent asked a valid question that I couldn't answer at that time. James Squires threw around the term censors, and then Neil chimed in again with another relevant question that deserves more than a nine word answer. These are the types of topics I'd like to see discussed in this thread, and omitted from others. This is a HouseKeeping thread where we debate the topics that continue to allow us to be house proud.
I'll start by responding to a few of the propositions raised by Neil and Bill. Why do we spend time formatting? Because it makes us stand out from the crowd. It shows we foreground our reader/contributors. Maintaining this consistency expresses our professionalism. Features like 'bolding' Webdiarists' (only) names (and other formatting conventions) allow readers to follow the skeins of conversations more simply; it's a visual aid in screen communication. This is only one of the hundreds of subtle but valuable considerations to be accounted for in making Webdiary articles and comments easier to access read and respect because someone, if not the poster then another (the editors backed by techie-channeled assistance [all hail the techies]), has taken the time to make the design, presentation, grammar, links, format and spelling reach a consistently high standard. This is a legacy of Margo and the Webdiary team's commitment to high quality presentation. Our standard is if you like a reflection of the advantage of a good professional upbringing. And we ain't about to compromise this type of rare professionalism for something as common as time and energy. Why do we bother? Because it matters and we care. And that's a good enough reason to motivate my fingers to go the extra mile if necessary.
Why don't we recompose people's 'poor' contributions into 'good' ones? Because they would not be your words but ours, not your thoughts but ours, but with your name to them. And that would be censorship of the worst order defeating the entire purpose of Webdiary. It would also remove my pleasure. I enjoy polishing and publishing views which I agree, disagree or relate to in zen fashion with because I value the challenge (or not) those views present. I am not threatened by any of them but thank their holders for presenting me and our readers with a differing perspective. To paraphrase what I said to Neil: comments are your deal, presentation is ours. The value of Webdiary is that both of us take up our tasks and contributions to the joint effort with serious respect and good humour.
You'll find those of us who are dedicated to Webdiary from this side of the keyboard have a love of the humanity and power of language and shared thought. Our allegiance is to communication, to giving voice, to facilitating. If we appear to censor ask yourself: what was cut and why? Sure the odd angry shot slips through our net (through a momentary loss of concentration most likely) but as editors we don't owe anyone a return chance. We don't play tit for tat here. You are not children in the playground asserting claims on a corner of the asphalt while we teachers on yard duty play umpire. This is adult territory and we play for the adult prizes of self-respect, improved learning and social betterment.
Well, that's my take on it anyway, what's yours? I and other editors welcome questions on the how to and the why we regarding the managing of our Webdiary comments features.