Thursday, August 12, 2010

Tilting at the Post Talk windmill

Post Talk -- the message board on the Post Register’s web site -- is the second-most popular part of our web site, attracting thousands of page views a month.

I can’t decide if that’s a good or a bad thing.

The vast majority -- probably 95 percent -- of people who visit Post Talk are “lurkers;” people who look but don’t participate. The posting is dominated by a dozen or so people divided roughly between political conservatives and liberals, in the loosest definitions of those terms. The two sides have developed a rather nasty disliking for each other, it seems.

Beginning last week, Post Talk is now fully moderated, meaning that a member of our news staff -- usually Editorial Page Editor Corey Taule or me -- reviews each post to determine whther it generally meets the guidelines we’ve set.

Those guidelines are:
“We encourage lively but civil discussions that won't get you or us sued. Please avoid offensive or distasteful language and attacking other posters personally. Please stay on topic. As much as possible, support your claims with facts. Please leave theological issues that don't involve public policy to other forums. As always, please end each post with your full name and city of residence.”
Not every post we’ve OK’d has met the spirit of those guidelines, but we’re trying to be generous without just approving everything. Going forward, we’re going to start tightening up a bit. Too many of the posts continue to be personal or unnecessarily harsh in tone. Too many make broad generalizations or accusations that lack precision or nuance. Too many writers exhibit a certitude that their claims don’t deserve.

As I wrote to a PT participant last week, Post Talk continues to be something of an experiment in online dialog, and so far it’s bearing an unfortunate resemblance to a Frankenstein monster. Despite encouragement among some at the Post Register to either drop Post Talk entirely or just let people verbally rip each other to shreds without moderation, I’m persevering in what we all agree is something of a Quixotic quest to develop a new model for online give and take.

Moderating a message board takes more time than it’s probably worth. Posting goes on day and night, but Corey and I check in several times a day. On weekends it becomes more haphazard still, as we don’t assign anyone to do it on a regular schedule. For now, it tends to be something I do between weekend chores.

Meanwhile, it remains an open question whether Post Talk can facilitate meaningful dialog or if it’ll just be a verbal jousting match

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