The first thing here is to apologise, sincerely, to Andrew Bolt. The second, to acknowledge the traps for the unwary in tapping too innocently into Web2 interconnectivity.
In recent days, comment strings on the new Crikey blog Pure Poison have been a little too lurid in their attacks on the controversial Herald Sun columnist. There are some things you can’t say in polite journalism. “Racist” is one of them. “Liar” is another. We regret that these things were said about Andrew. We don’t believe he is either, and in no way condone web pages under the Crikey imprint furthering that impression. Which is where the problem lies, of course: the speed of internet publishing running blind into a thinly resourced but well-attended — and well intentioned — web publication. Comments can get under your guard. Things better left unsaid can be given sudden public prominence. Only if you happen to be looking of course (and that probably only runs into the hundreds) but that’s not the point.
The thing that Crikey has learned from its first real encounter in this past fortnight with the more floridly opinionated fringes of angrily politicised blog commentary is the importance not so much of immediate moderation of comments (that is now very much an given) but rather ensuring an overall tone in the conversation. To put it more simply we don’t want to be that kind of site. We’d rather build a reputation for reason and well-turned argument than for insult and glib denunciation.
The internet is a land of many underbellies. Apparently respectable newspaper sites court google traffic with layer on layer of celebrity-studded, skin-laden picture galleries, opinion bloggers draw short of the unmentionable under their own names and leave that dirty work to their legions of regular commenters … and given the right cues, that dirty work is done.
That’s all a little too easy, and frankly a disingenuous cop out. It’s also a mode that strays too readily to personal abuse rather than the meat of the argument. Which is where we want things to dwell at Crikey and in the discussion forums we host. We’d like to think that’s what we offer — our point of difference — in the yellowing ranks of serious Australian journalism.
The point is not to be outraged at someone’s argument, or their untenable, maybe mischievous, maybe pointedly distorted point of view. The argument is not with the writer, but with the view expressed, and that’s where we want to keep things, that will be what we will actively moderate our discussions to achieve. We want to play the ball, not the columnist.
Our comments code, the code our bloggers/moderators are contracted to observe, is based on the guidelines followed by Guardian publications. It covers most of the bases. On top of that, we will try where we can to weed out not just the vexatious and insulting, but also the frivolous and time wasting. We want to run comment … we welcome utterly that opportunity for instant, robust and accessible discussion, but we want it where possible to enrich understanding of the topic, not just flitter by in the empty, rapidly created, hot white noise of the internet.
We think that novelty has worn off.