Visitors to mvtimes.com and the slice of visitors who comment on what they read on the website have created an online hub for discussion and debate on Vineyard topics. The paper had several goals when it added the Comment feature to the site.
We wanted to hear from readers who had something to say to the newspaper, its reporters, and writers about what they read. We wanted to create a town square where site visitors, as well as print readers, could discuss news and events with other members of the newspaper’s readership. We wanted the fresh sources of information, the demands for coverage of neglected issues, and the tips that could lead to important discoveries of information that the newspaper had missed. And, we wanted the feature to be without hobbles as to points of view, but always civil, so that a broad cross section of Islanders would participate, writing comments or, if not so bold as that, at least reading them.
In general, it’s worked out the way we hoped. A variety of Islanders, with a variety of strongly held opinions, comment, and a great many more read the comments and evaluate them without commenting. The comment participants tell us what they like and don’t like about the articles we publish and what they like and don’t like about the subjects of those articles. They criticize and compliment the reporting, offering corrections for things we’ve got wrong. (We monitor the comments and fix our mistakes online as quickly as we can.) They debate issue after issue among themselves, and readers who don’t comment watch the affray and take sides.
The feature began years ago with a horrifying degree of incivility, but although, even now, some of the views expressed may be objectionable to some of the readers, we’ve mostly exterminated the slurs and name-calling.
Still, commenters complain when their contributions get deleted, and they profess not to know why. This is why.
We take down comments that call other commenters names or question, in harsh terms, their intelligence. The aim is to keep the comments on target, and the target is whatever the issue is. That includes The Times itself and its reporters. Repetitive trashing is out.
We take down comments that allege improprieties that are unproven or that the newspaper has not satisfied itself are factual. For instance, a commenter may write that so-and-so, who was fired from his job as street sweeper, has been dipping into the tills of stores along his sweeping route, and everyone knows it. That’s the sort of thing you hear in the coffee shop or see on Facebook. Such a comment is off the point, unproven, and unevaluated by the newspaper, so it comes down.
If someone is arrested for writing a bad check and a commenter adds that the utterer is also the one who stole the statue of the Confederate soldier a year ago, that comes down, absent a confirming court or police report.
If a commenter writes that such and such a business is moving into such and such a new address, but our reporters have found that no such deal has been consummated, the comment comes down.
If a commenter uses vulgarities, acronyms for vulgarities, or combinations of letters and symbols to suggest a vulgarity, that comment comes down.
If a story about a Martha’s Vineyard Commission hearing attracts a comment about the ethnicity of the applicant to the commission, that off the point comment comes down.
Comments that the comment reviewer cannot make heads or tails of come down. Cretinous one-word or one-line comments posted only to provoke come down.
And, for the future, imaginative attempts by commenters to find ways around these prohibitions will come down too.
Otherwise, welcome aboard. And, thank you.