At Large : Further refinements
Nowhere in business, or in the business of journalism, is adaptation more sharply in evidence than at the wild frontier between newspapering and the Internet. It's that boundary between what we like doing and know so complacently and what makes us squirm with resistance and give way to grudgingly. One can smell the vegan-fresh breath of our successors as they pass us on the way to the digital future of news and information, where life is a blog and death is a virus that crashes your computer, disengaging you from the 24/7 world of opinion. You know, that world where everyone (and nowadays, we mean absolutely everyone) has an opinion, and this opinion is as good as that one, because in the new paradigm, being judgmental is so print media, and factual reporting is so Joe Friday.
Adapt or die is the imperative operating these days. (We ancients long to cling to the promise of intelligent design, but we have to hedge our bets.) But, if one thought one might adapt once or twice in the course of a life earnestly lived - say, kicking that old Royal Underwood typewriter out of the house and taking up with a computer - one would be horribly, exasperatingly, day in and day out wrong. The game has become not merely to face change with a grim smile, but to adapt and adapt till the mind reels, and do it daily. It never occurred to homo erectus, swinging through the jungle canopy or loping across the vast savannah, that, after discovering in a brilliant stroke how to chip bits of flint off the rock and tie them to a long, slender stick and then hurl that stick with deadly effect at a passing buck - that, after all that, he would eventually need to figure out how to grow his own vegetables and raise his own livestock out back of the cave. His thought was, all right, this new spear thing ought to serve me for the rest of my 20-year lifespan.
Today, in the news business, the working life of the new, new thing is three years or less, and good luck to you if you haven't figured out what comes next before your three years are up.
I know I've mentioned how often we've built and rebuilt mvtimes.com over the past 10 or 15 years, how often we've tried something we thought would please readers, only to find they didn't give a damn, how often we've added a feature, then ripped it apart and rebuilt it so it would work right. Among the most often modified features on The Times website is the Comment feature. It is an attempt to enlarge the conversation between the newspaper and its readers, and among those readers, by making it more of a flowing, day to day, two-way street.
Happily most comment posters are terrific, inquisitive, critical, thoughtful, and above all, amiable. But, some are just hateful, rude, disparaging, name-calling, nasty, and horribly, intentionally cruel. So, we've set down some rules for Comment participants, including a requirement that you read and agree to the rules, then abide by them. And, we added a feature that lets you report to us posts that you don't think meet the standard.
You are solely and wholly responsible for your comments, and we want you to have your say, but after all, it's our website, and it's a newspaper for a general and genial readership, and we don't want to wince when we read what you've written, particularly when we're allowing it on our site. This doesn't mean that we have any interest in allowing one point of view but blocking another. All points of view are, if not welcomed, then at least allowed. The issue is how they are expressed. Those readers who are passionate about their First Amendment rights but indifferent to yours will be unhappy, and so be it.
We don't like anonymity. It would be better if every poster, like every letter writer whose words appear among the Letters to the Editor, in print and online, included his or her name. But, that's not how the digital age works, it turns out. We think, if you've something worth saying, stand behind it. But, the rules are different for the words that The Times publishes and the words that you post. We put our names on what we publish and ask those who would have us publish their letters to do the same. Posters to the Comment feature may post anonymously or pseudonymously, but they must live with the diminished authority of what they write. When you put your name to what you write, it matters a great deal. When you don't, it matters less.
This week, we have added a new hurdle for Comment posters. Each and every comment will now be reviewed and approved before posting. Or rejected and trashed. We've adapted to this more cumbersome protocol because of one or two nasties who will not mind their manners, despite having agreed to do so and despite having been in some cases personally invited to continue posting if only they will behave. They've been unable to bring themselves to meet the simple standard of good manners. Actually, it may only be one person who has gone so far as to create multiple email addresses and pseudonyms to get into the action.
Hence, a new approach that will entertain all opinions, but only when expressed in moderate terms, as described in the protocol confronting each participating poster. I have no doubt that for nearly every one of you, doing so will be no challenge. It's been your practice all along. For the outliers, let them talk among themselves.