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Unmoderated reader comments are a news fail

Some mainstream media have incorporated the fantastic ability of the web to allow reader comments to stream live.

Apparently, the misguided professional believes this is a wonderful way of operating public journalism, which seems to be so popular right now. Really, we’re demonstrating our real connections with our audience.

Unfortunately, when reader comments are opened on every story, and allowed to run rampant, your brand (yes, journalists, you’re running a business which means you have to market yourselves) is ready to be decimated.

Reader comments can turn a decent 300-word professional piece into a free-for-all featuring the most unbalanced, extremist morons in the universe whose opinions get quoted and requoted across those pages of reader comment and through wider social media, completely dissolving any semblance of decent journalism.

Including reader comments is simply not necessary on many stories, especially as the stories are developing. They should not be included on stories that obviously invite the freaks of society to come out of the woodwork. Those people who use every opportunity to make accusations that are political or racial and have no relationship to the story. You know, the freaks that are on talk-back radio (and who should stay there).

Nor should reader comments be on stories that include painful information relating to families who not only have to live with their tragedies, but also have to suffer the narrow-minded opinions of people who treat them as fair game – in media they are ALL going to read.

Professionals – if you wouldn’t include it in the copy because it’s conjecture, non-factual or simply not a good reflection of your masthead’s position in the market, then don’t give it voice anywhere else – including in the reader comments.

Just to finish (and to act as proof), here are some stellar reader contributions live from today’s online press:

“i hope this guy fries…put a bullet in his head and save us some money and rid us of this moron…shame on him…and hope he goes to hell;” (Denver Post)

From Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, on a story about a ghostly picture taken in a cemetary, “It shows how labor has continually been re-elected for 12 years, because half of Sydney are truly gullible fools who will believe anything.”

And finally, from the UK’s Daily Mail, on a story about a swimming pool banning nudity in its showers: “any child that hasn’t seen a male naked, has been let down by their parents.”

Classy.

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