washingtonpost.com: Panel: Ethics & Interactivity

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Jeff Jarvis, Jane Hamsher, Jay Rosen, Glenn Reynolds, Jim Brady
Wednesday, January 25, 2006; 1:00 PM

Last Thursday, washingtonpost.com turned off the reader comments feature on post.blog , a blog dedicated to sharing news by and about The Post and washingtonpost.com. The move came after several comments containing personal attacks, profanity and hate speech were posted on an item about Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell's recent column about the Abramoff scandal: Getting the Story on Jack Abramoff , ( Post, Jan. 15 ). At the time, washingtonpost.com Executive Editor Jim Brady wrote, "We're not giving up on the concept of having a healthy public dialogue with our readers, but this experience shows that we need to think more carefully about how we do it." Brady discussed the decision in a live discussion last week.

To open the discourse about how reader-submitted comments should be handled, washingtonpost.com invited several prominent bloggers to join us Wednesday, Jan. 25, at 1 p.m. ET to discuss the evolving nature of Internet commentary and ethics.

The Panel: Jeff Jarvis, Buzz Machine; Jane Hamsher, firedoglake; Jay Rosen, PressThink; Glenn Reynolds, Instapundit; and Jim Brady, Executive Editor, washingtonpost.com.

Hamsher is an author and producer who blogs at both firedoglake.blogspot.com and the Huffington Post .

Jarvis, BuzzMachine, is former TV critic for TV Guide and People, creator of Entertainment Weekly, Sunday editor and associate publisher of the New York Daily News, and a columnist on the San Francisco Examiner. He was until recently president and creative director of Advance.net, the online arm of Advance Publications. Now he works as editor of a new news startup, still in stealth. He is working with The New York Times Company at About.com on content development and strategy and consulting for Advance and Fairchild.

Rosen, PressThink, teaches journalism at New York University, where has been on the faculty since 1986. From 1999 to 2005 he served as chair of the Department. He lives in New York City. He is also the author of PressThink, a weblog about journalism and its ordeals (www.pressthink.org), which he introduced in September 2003. In June 2005, PressThink won the Reporters Without Borders 2005 Freedom Blog award for outstanding defense of free expression. He also blogs at the Huffington Post.

Reynolds, Instapundit, is a law professor at the University of Tennessee. He is a contributing editor at TechCentralStation.com. His next book, forthcoming in February, is "An Army of Davids: How Markets and Technology Empower Ordinary People to Beat Big Media, Big Government, and Other Goliaths."

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Jim Brady: Just wanted to extend a welcome to our guests in this forum. We've tried to get a good cross-section of folks here to have an open debate on the topic of interactivity on the web. So, without further ado, there are a ton of questions, so let's get cracking...

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Seattle, Wash.: The Post's dramatic over-reaction to some critics has, in effect, broadly painted all Democrats on the left as vulgar. Last night, one of the sillier TV pundits characterized blog reaction to Howell's column as "organized terrorism." What can The Post do to tamp down this sort of dangerous mischaracterization, and how can readers who care enough to participate in the dialogue trust that they won't again all be treated as barbarians when they disagree?

Jeff Jarvis: That's a great point. To extend the argument, this chat itself is looking at the wrong end of the pipe. It would be better to have a chat about all the great things that do, indeed, come from finally opening up the pipe to two-way collaboration. NashvilleIsTalking.com is my favorite example of a media organization forging a new relationship with citizens by sharing (1) conversation, (2) promotion, (3) content, (4) knowledge, and -- this is a big one -- (5) revenue.

Yes, let's chat next about the light side of interactivity, damnit.

Jay Rosen: I think it would have been wise if Deborah Howell, in her latest piece, "The Firestorm Over My Column," had elected to share with readers not only the rude, crude and disgusting things sent her way, but some of the brilliant and inspired ones that made her think, caused her to question herself, or introduced problems she had never considered before. She said she had suffered "a public stoning," but she was also treated to a live seminar on the politics of balance in the news columns, and the complaints of a newly-assertive online left. Did she learn anything from it beyond: I have to watch what I say?

Jane Hamsher: The post.com should be thrilled by the passion and intelligence and civility exhibited by the vast, vast majority of commenters.

Over at Kos, someone compared an archived version of the original comments on the "Maryland Moment" blog with the ones that were restored and found only ten that were deemed so "offensive" that they had to be deleted. That's a 99% civility rate. I think most people who run a public board would think that was remarkable.

That's quite different than the description Brady gave to Hugh Hewitt, where he said there were "hundreds and hundreds of comments about her column, and they were very, very nasty, using words that I didn't even know existed."

Even conservative blogger Michelle Malkin said of theposts deleted from the Howell blog that "the comments seemed comparatively tame."

I think people would really like to know why the Post deleted comments that were really intelligent, appropriate and completely non-profane, and continues to characterize these readers as scruffy barbarians.

Jim Brady: I have made this point countless times, but to no avail. The cached posts you see don't include any of the posts we removed. Simple as that. When we saw them, we took them down, which means they weren't live and thus not on that cached page. So analyzing that page and drawing conclusions is faulty.

Glenn Reynolds: Some examples of good user communities are Slate's "The Fray" (where I started) and Slashdot. Both, however, are moderated.

My own sense is that it's very hard to preserve civility -- or even a good ratio of interestingness to flaming -- on sites that have high traffic without a fair degree moderation. There's some sort of a threshold after which things tend to break down into USENET-style flamewars, which some people like, but which I'm tired of. I find the comments on Atrios, Kos, or for that matter Little Green Footballs, to be tiresome.

Jeff Jarvis: Glenn: I agree with your assessment of those particular sites. I wonder whether that is a function of size or topic or host's tone.

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Columbus Ohio: I think Atrios sums this up pretty well:

"Nothing like convening a panel to discuss how to deal with Internet comments which consists of someone who doesn't allow them, someone who doesn't get any because nobody gives a sh** what he writes, and someone who deletes them and clearly exaggerates the reasons why."

Jim Brady: Yeah, that's a terrific analysis. So the point is that the only people qualified to discuss comments on articles are people who allow comments and delete nothing? That would be one heck of a discussion. As for clearly exaggerating, I saw that "analysis." It was of a cached page of one of the two problematic posts, and as I have mentioned a number of times, didn't have any of the posts that we'd removed. If you want to act as it that's proof of clear exaggeration, I think you lose some credibility when you talk about the press and its burden of proof. If The Post had used that burden of proof to show that Abramoff directed money to Democrats, you'd rightfully be all over them.

Jeff Jarvis: Well, then, I'd say that Atrios has a perfect opportunity to come grill a few of the many people he doesn't like.

But seriously, I also believe this is an unfair summary of Atrios' views of interactivity; I doubt he wants his site to become known as a snark factory.

Instead, because he is the host to such robust interactivity and has created a conversation of its own sort, I'd like to hear his perspective.

One BIG problem with this particular means of interactivity is that I see no names! That's not very personal. If Atrios were here, I wouldn't know it. And so I do think it's rather ridiculous that a few of us have names and everyone else does not. That's one of the artificial constraints of this stage-and-auditorium format I have never liked. The truth is that the Post would be well-served to create a means and motive for Atrios and the folks listed here and you to gather and have a good discussion about discussions.

Or we can just snark.

Jane Hamsher: Jim, Jane here. I'm just wondering, did you filter messages before they were seen publicly or after? We know that posts were removed and then restored at various times over the last week. But what is puzzling is that some messages with profanity were restored while others with strictly appropriate political content were not. Can you explain?

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Freeport, Maine: Jim:

I'll throw this question out to you, since I assume you're moderating this panel.

Do you think a dinosaur like The Washington Post is fundamentally unable to cope with something like a blog with comments (a feature commonly absent from Rightie blogs) because it is so used to manipulating the message to its liking?

I realize that question could use an editor, but it's a matter of cultural context; i.e. you're the cart and we're the horse.

Thanks for hosting this gig.

Jim Brady: First of all, I'm not moderating this. Our Live Online honcho, Liz Kelly, is doing the honors and selecting the questions.

As for the question, I don't think being a mainstream media site and having blogs with comments are mutually exclusive. We've been doing it for a year, actually. Of course people from both sides will use those boards to make political points , and that's fine. Others will use the forum to criticize the paper and its reporting. We knew that going in to. So, no, I think these somewhat different cultures can -- and need to -- merge.

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Spokane, Wash.: I learned in First Amendment class that the way to counter bad speech is to allow MORE speech not cut it off as you did with the Howell blog.

Discuss.

Jeff Jarvis: Well said. The age of controlled conversation is over. The age of open conversation is here. But that is damned hard for the controllers to get used to. And I don't say that with the pejorative edge it seems to indicate. The journalists thought it was their job -- emphasis on job, responsibility, value -- to control by verifying and judging and so on. If the job, instead, is to enable, then you have to start exercising new muscles. And it is important to keep in mind that a democracy is better served by the airing of more viewpoints and perspectives. And journalism is better served by the exposing of more news.

Glenn Reynolds: More speech is good. But, of course, there's no obligation for anyone to provide you with more speech on their site.

I love open comments, just as I love free beer, free pizza, and other giveaway goods. But I'm not entitled to them. And those who partake, I think, owe a certain degree of civility to their hosts.

In an age where there's less control, I think that such informal measures matter more, not less.

Jeff Jarvis: When this works best -- when civility rules -- I think it's not so much because people owe that to their host but to the community. I am most gratified when fellow commenters out a troll or ask that a conversation get on topic.

When I oversaw highly interactive sites at Advance.net, we found that if we gave the community the opportunity to snitch on bad behavior, they did... because it was theirs, not ours. (I wrote about yesterday in more detail on my blog.)

Jay Rosen: I think we should start debating not the user's right to speak through comments, but the journalist's right to hear, and discern what users of their work are saying. Who's sticking up for that? Used to be (and many who are working in newsrooms will remember this) that five letters and two phones calls about the article you researched for three weeks was a "big" response. I'd love to hear from the Post journalists who want the far bigger, richer and more varied responses they can get on the Net today, and who have the sense that there might be something valuable in it.

Glenn Reynolds: Bloggers get a lot more feedback, with or without comments. I spoke to Linda Seebach of the Rocky Mountain News at a conference, and found out that I get much more email in a day than her paper gets in a week, and it's a top-ten daily. Of course, reporters might report less if they got as much email as I do.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi, my question is for Glenn and then maybe Jane would like to comment.

Why is it that most of the high traffic right-wing blogs don't take comments, while most of the left-wing blogs do?

From my perspective, it looks like the conservatives can dish it out, but can't take it, that they are uncomfortable subjecting their ideas to scrutiny on their own Web sites.

Jeff Jarvis: Heh.

Glenn Reynolds: I think that one reason has to do with media treatment. Charles Johnson, for example -- who does have comments -- has repeatedly faced media stories about his site in which comments made by his readers are directly attributed to him, as if he had written them. I certainly worry about that sort of thing, too. I think that lefty sites expect, and get, less of that kind of mistreatment.

I've never had comments. I get about 1000 emails a day, and I don't have time to look at those, post on my blog, AND moderate comments. And unmoderated comments raise a risk of the kind of thing I mention above, as well as possible libel and copyright issues. I've actually considered bringing someone in to do that, but that seems too impersonal.

Jeff Jarvis: But, Glenn, isn't it also true that your audience misses out on the wisdom your audience brings to you? Just as I'd tell the Post, the Times, the Guardian, et al, that they should take advantage of -- that is, enable and share -- the wisdom of their crowds, I think your public would be as interesting to read as you are. Of course, I grant that there is a cost that comes with this if you do moderate at your level of traffic v. mine. But I would love to see you find some way to be more interactive. Nick Denton and Gawker Media made that -- appropriate for them -- into a velvet-rope club where you have to be invited in. I wouldn't say that would work for you -- accusations of an echo chamber would follow. But I wonder whether isn't some way to increase your interactivity. But then the question is: Do you want to?

Glenn Reynolds: I don't know. My blog is a spare-time activity for me, and the sort of thing you describe would be another commitment of time. The Washington Post can have editors for their comments; I'd have to do it myself, or hire someone.

I am annoyed, though, by the sense of entitlement that some people bring to this discussion. The barriers to entry in blogging are very low. You want to get your ideas out? You can start a blog in 15 minutes. So why do you feel entitled -- and that's not too strong a word for what I hear sometimes -- to put your comments on someone else's site?

Glenn Reynolds: To add to this, I think that although people often act as if bloggers avoid comments with which they disagree, I think that the real danger to bloggers comes from the commenters with whom they agree. I've seen a number of bloggers pushed toward more extreme views by their comment section. It's seductive, I imagine -- all these people talking about *your* ideas -- and it seems to exert a pull.

Jeff Jarvis: I think you're quite right that anyone can have a blog and link and comment and, in many ways, that yields richer conversation. Still, there are times when I have something to add to a conversation and don't want to use my own blog for that. I appreciate the blogs who allow that. Entitlement? No, I'd call it enlightenment.

Glenn Reynolds: In your case, Jeff, it's enlightenment. But you have a blog, and you've presented this question in a non-entitled sense. That's not always the case.

Jeff Jarvis: And we come to agreement. We both complain about people who tell us what they want us to write. Blogs are about what we want to write.

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Woodside, Calif.: Everyone makes mistakes. The easiest thing to do is admit them and move on. A mea culpa would have transformed this "issue." Ms. Howell did not do that. Why?

Jay Rosen: This is one where there's a real lack of communication between the Post and readers who were angry about Howell's errors. Jim Brady's attitude is instead of waiting to reply in her column, she spoke on Thursday at the post.blog, three days before her "scheduled" time. He has also said (in a Q and A with me) that he doesn't think an earlier response would have made any difference.

I disagree with Jim. The Post can say it "only" took four days for Howell to acknowledge something amiss, but it only takes four minutes to realize that she was wrong in what she stated as fact about Abramoff and the Democrats. Moreover, she was wrong in a way that "tracked" with Republican spin, which makes it different from a garden-variety miscue. And on top of that her first statement was begrudging in tone. This created the storm conditions that "stunned" Howell, and lit up the comment board.

From Sunday afternoon to Thursday, then, the Post and Howell were speaking loudly by doing nothing, sending the message "there's nothing amiss," or "we don't hear you," or "just the usual partisan griping." And since these signals from the Post were themselves wrong (there

was

something amiss, and Brady did hear...) they had the effect of compounding the original error, turning it into an insult felt by many thousands of people, who, as everyone knows, stand on the blue side of the red-blue divide in American politics. That is no disqualification for criticizing the Post.

I don't think you can understand the insults that flew at Howell--and she will never understand them--unless you start with the institutional insult I just described. There's news value for outraged readers in a big non-response. The news for them is: you don't count, even when you have a point. Not answering the criticisms of her Jack Ambramoff column was escalating behavior, and the Post began it immediately.

And so I don't think Jim Brady has punctuated this event correctly.

Jeff Jarvis: See Dan Rather's 11 days. Just because you own distribution no longer means you control the timing of news. Journalists need to learn that the moment they publish is when the story starts, not ends, and they need to gear up to learn more and share more from that moment on.

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Apopka, Fla.: Remember when sex was the number one searched-for term on the Internet? And now, porn is so widely available online that no one really cares anymore. Isn't this fretting over vicious blog posting just "flavor of the month?" A year from now, will anyone care anymore?

Glenn Reynolds: Sure, it's a tempest in a teapot. But it's our teapot!

Jeff Jarvis: And is it really a tempest at all or is that the spin. It's like media saying that there's an uproar over decency on TV when it's an engineered campaign of the so-called Parents Television Council (don't get me started). Is there really an uproar over uncivility in comments or about the paper closing them off? It's all perception. It's all spin. And it's quite inside blogging. How much better it would be to talk about the issues.

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Jane Hamsher: Jim Brady says "I have made this point countless times, but to no avail. The cached posts you see don't include any of the posts we removed. Simple as that. When we saw them, we took them down, which means they weren't live and thus not on that cached page. So analyzing that page and drawing conclusions is faulty."

Are you saying that these messages, which you are saying you pulled, never appeared on the blog?

Jim Brady: Not at all. They were there and we removed them. And thus they would not appear in a cached page, which is essentially a snapshot in time. If they weren't live at the moment the page was cached, you wouldn't see them.

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Jim Brady: Jane, if anything with profanity was restored, it was inadvertent. As for the ones that you say were removed that did not violate any of our rules, I'd need to read them. If indeed there are some that fit that category we can put them back up. But let's be real here, there are almost 1,000 comments up under Maryland Moment now and almost 200 on Deborah's clarification, and they're almost all pretty critical of The Post. So to pull out a handful of examples and try and turn that into a huge conspiracy is a bit of a stretch.

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Little Rock, Ark.: Why not establish a set of rules (no profanity or hate speech, yada yada yada) and then have a moderator delete posts that violate the rules? This is how many online discussion boards and forums operate.

Jeff Jarvis: In my experience, most sites do this. But be aware that (1) this brings costs and (2) advertisers do not value forums -- wrongly, I think -- and so they operate at a loss. I said on my blog that interactivity is valuable nonetheless and necessary. But at some point, there is a limit to the investment that business sides tend to want to put into it.

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Logan, Utah: Okay, you want to discuss "the evolving nature of Internet commentary and ethics."

Here are my thoughts:

I know from my experience as a monitor of some volatile and highly-trafficked news-related message boards that people get really mad if you solicit their opinion and then delete it. So, be sure you want comments before you ask for them. To be more blunt, if you don't want people to tell you when you screw up, then leave your comments turned off. That's the ethical thing to do.

However, if you want to create a community of active and involved readers, then comments can help you do that - but you have to value the input of your readers enough to (a) provide clear guidelines about what is unacceptable content BEFORE they post, not after and (b)consider their words and issue any corrections, clarifications, or retractions before they get the idea that you are ignoring or dissing them.

I would be interested to hear what your panel thinks about this.

Jeff Jarvis: When I the word ethics in the headline of my blog post about this, I did not mean it in terms of unethical behavior -- whether one would want to define that as what Howell did or what commenters did in response.

I was talking about the positive ethic -- how interactivity is good for journalism and democracy.

I believe that the ethic of objectivity in journalism -- which I, among others, argued was a false god -- should be replaced by an ethic of transparency (read: honesty) and interactivity (read: conversation and openness).

OK, that's horribly broad. To be more responsive to your challenge: I agree that asking for views and then not airing them is wrong. And, yes, it feels helpful to have guidelines and rules of engagement. But then again, I have opposed such ethics policies for bloggers because I believe that we don't sign such a piece of paper when we move into our houses: 'I hereby vow not to be an ass to my neighbor.' It is presumed that I will not be an ass until I act otherwise. Similarly, here, in our interactive world, I think we need to presume civility and not manage based on uncivility.

Glenn Reynolds: I think it's very useful to make the guidelines clear up front. Of course, some conduct (e.g. the goatse.cx links on the LA Times site) is pretty obviously out, and no one can claim not to know better. But other stuff is OK on some blogs, not OK on others. It's partly a matter of culture.

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Concord, Mass.: What other criteria, besides profanity, privacy intrusions and hurtful personal attacks, should be used to censor comments?

I noticed that some comments removed from The Washington Post blog last week contained no profanity or personal affront but simply provided background information about the issue at hand or asked about inconsistencies in the graphical evidence that Ms. Howell attempted to provide.

Jane Hamsher: Jim Brady told Jay Rosen , "If you want to take issue with articles in The Post or on washingtonpost.com, go right ahead. If you want to complain that you think we're biased to the left or right -- and, believe me, we get it from both sides -- have at it. But if you want to viciously attack and insult Post or Post.com staffers or other blog commenters, then go somewhere else to do it. That's the deal 've had with a large majority of our loyal readers for years, and we've decided that's going to be our policy going forward."

It would be interesting to now how this reconciles with the deletion of

Paul Lukasiak's and Richard Estes' comments

from the Maryland Moment blog, which were pure political commentary and contained neither profanity nor "hate speech".

Much of the profanity has been put back in, but these comments have not. This makes it seem that the Post's goal was to silence intelligent, appropriate political criticism rather than to eliminate what they are complaining so loudly about.

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Anonymous: Could Mr. Brady please tell us what the Washington Post means by the term "hate speech"? I am confused as to how it differs from a personal attack. Does saying I hate Ms. Howell's writing or lack of journalistic integrity qualify as hate speech? The Post seems to be using this term in a political sense; it seems to be something beyond the "personal attacks" or obscene language that The Post also cites as unacceptable within its Comments.

Jane Hamsher: "Hate speech" is a very specific, loaded term, and since the Post has so far refused to release any of the comments that could be thus characterize they insist we take their word for it. Are they referring to what Ed Gillespie calls "hate speech?" There are any number of people who have managed large online communities (though none of them here) who deal with these problems every day. Kos (of DailyKos) says "I would challenge them to release the emails and messages that were so abusive that it gave them the vapors. On DailyKos, hidden comments are still visible to trusted users. Transparency goes a long way toward verifying that censorship is being responsibly managed."

Jay Rosen: I agree with Jane that hate speech is a loaded term.

I also think that there

is

such a thing as "press hate," and it does fit easily into what's called the

paranoid style

in American politics. Press hate has, I think, had a very long and active life on the right, but it also has appeal to some on the Left. Maybe more appeal than ever. The reasons for it are many.

How can we tell press hate from just angry passionate criticism? When the journalist's efforts to correct, improve, understand and engage are met with instant rejection and suspicion, there is a climate of press hate. I am not in favor of censoring it. But I am wary of where the emotion leads.

Jeff Jarvis: How does one defuse hate? By facing the bully eye-to-eye, eh?

Nine times out of 10, when someone has come spitting bile at me in my comments, I find that if I bother to address them directly and call them on their behavior toward me, they back off and we end up in a decent conversation.

Frankly, many times -- most times -- it's not worth the effort. It's just a passing moment. But when I take the time, it tends to work.

If Deborah had appeared in the comments immediately asking people to treat her as a person, not a silent oracle, then I'll bet the tone of the exchange would have changed. That's not to say that some would not still be angry and rude but what were they really asking for but answerability? So if you answer, you defuse that demand.

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Madison, Wis.: I would argue that there is a marked difference between communications that contain profanity (uncouth, but common), personal attacks (a sign of anger and frustration), and hate speech (unacceptable in any situation). But, creating a forum that is open for all to comment, as you are doing, will invariably produce some of each. I believe these situations are manageable, as Ms. Hamsher manages to do daily at her blog firedoglake. But, I would strongly encourage you to examine each "situation" in the context of the article or column being commented upon. If a writer's imprecise language or incorrect information leads to errors, correct them immediately. You will earn the trust of your readers and commenters and minimize the negative feedback. This situation is really a lesson in Management 101!

Jay Rosen: It makes sense for the Post to have rules, and it is their right to decide what they should be. Hate speech has to be beyond the pale. Personal attacks with no substance should be. But rules without an enforcement system aren't rules; they're guidelines. I don't think "civility" is an especially good guideline. Jim shouldn't ask people to be civil, but to be real, to say what they think, to obey some minimal rules. Sometimes there's a lot to discern in an angry, uncivil response, but if you're worried about civility you're not going to be very discerning.

Jim Brady: I'd concur with Jay here. I've used the word "civility," but it's true that it's a tough word to define. Among the things we've learned here is that we need to have clear rules and examples to help people understand the limits of what we'll accept. So I'll retire "civility" at this point.

Glenn Reynolds: To take an economic perspective, one problem with comments is that -- like email lists and chatboards -- they allow one person to draw on the time of others. This can quickly devolve into a tragedy of the commons.

Nick Denton said that the great thing about the blogosphere is that it "routes around idiots." If you think someone is a troll, you can stop visiting their blog. (And, obviously, one person's "idiot" is another person's genius, at least sometime). But that's true for the blogosphere as a whole, not for any particular part of it, of course. It's why I like Technorati -- I can see links to a post, and from experience I usually know whose comments aren't likely to be worth reading.

Jeff Jarvis: Glenn: The same is true in comments, though. I route around those whose comments I've not found worthwhile. Yes, ignoring them may only piss them off more. But I find that most get tired and go away.

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Medford, Mass.: Although there has been a lot of distracting noise about civility, it seems to me that the real question in all of this is whether news will be responsive to readers ("interactive" if you prefer). Newspapers have previously had complete editorial control over reader responses -- simply through the choice of whether to publish a reader's letter to the editor. Even those chosen are often further edited.

What The Post just bumped up against was interactive readership. It is certainly more messy and less easy to control, but I do not think old-fashioned, one-way communication can last much longer. The Post should have embraced the response and bragged about in headlines: "Over 1,000 Readers Respond to Ombudsman Column." Missed opportunity to baby step into the future?

Jeff Jarvis: Amen. It's not just about civility but about facts -- about journalism and trust.

And journalists forget at their peril that they are not the ones who decide what is reliable and true and worth credence, in the end: The public is. It is the job of journalists to help them make that decision.

And so the Post doesn't need to clean up the world or decide everything that is or isn't reliable. I know a bozo when I see one. But you're right, rather than dealing with that, we should be talking about the news and the facts. Civility is so high school.

Jim Brady: I assure you, we're not at all interested in cleaning up the world. But we do want people who post on our site to follow some simple guidelines. And, as I have said, you have every right to reject those rules and walk away from us. But I do strongly disagree with the assumption that the web is what it is and we have to accept profanity and public attacks as part and parcel.

One other thing that's been lost in this is that the only reason we ran into this trouble was that we had comments turned on to start with. Many media sites and blogs don't have comments turned on at all. So the irony is that we're having this conversation only because we actually provided interactivity to start with.

I don't know many people in journalism who don't believe in interacting more with readers.

Jeff Jarvis: Oh, I do, I'm sorry to say. But they can learn. I've found that most people who fear or disdain interactivity come to appreciate it. But first, they have to give it a chance. The Post has clearly gotten people to try and learn to love to interact. Sadly, many newsrooms still cower at the thought.

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Boston, Mass.: For Jim Brady: First, I want to thank you for have the gumption/integrity to engage critics in an open discussion. I have strong respect for your interview on Air America recently, although I want to follow up on the issue of reporting that is factually correct but gives a false impression.

If I had a friend who spent $240 a year subscribing to The Post and $0 buying the Washington Times in 2000, and I successfully encouraged him to buy the Times on weekdays and limit his purchase of The Post to Sundays for $78, it is factually correct that I encouraged him to spend money on both newspapers. Do you agree that reporting that I "directed him to spend money on both newspapers" would give a false impression of my role in supporting the Washington Post?

Jim Brady: No, I think in that case, you didn't direct him to. But I don't think the situations are at all analogous. I don't want this to get into a discussion about the Abramoff story, though. Deborah has admitted an error in her phrasing, both online and in the paper, and this issue has been discussed endlessly for the last week. I'm reasonably sure that no matter what I say, we'll end up agreeing to disagree.

Jane Hamsher: I think it's a very fair analogy.

On Chris Cillizza's washingtonpost.com blog,

he recently mentioned

that despite his decision to only deal with scandals plaguing current governors and members of Congress, an editor stepped in and added to his list Rep. Frank Ballance, a Democrat who had resigned in June, 2004. Even Cillizza himself said that "Ballance was unnecessarily included for, frankly, balance."

Prior to the fall of 2005 nobody would have suggested that Abramoff was anything other than a self described "right wing idealogue" and a GOP operative, a man who once famously said, "it is not our job to seek peaceful coexistence with the Left. Our job is to remove them from power permanently." Suddenly the GOP and the president himself began calling Abramoff an "equal money dispenser" and there is every appearance that the paper's management are going to great lengths to support this distortion.

What you are seeing on your message boards is only the tip of the iceberg of the crisis of trust the paper has created with its readership, and people are quite understandably and justifiably angry when these concerns are dismissed as invalid because a few of them are found to be "uncivil." This is so beside the point as to be absurd.

_______________________

Scottsdale, Ariz.: Your announcement of this panel says you shut down the blog "after several comments containing personal attacks, profanity and hate speech were posted..." But a Post article titled "Deluge Shuts Down Post Blog" (Jan 21) said the paper shut the blog "after receiving hundreds of posts, many using profane or sexist language."

Which was it, several or many?

washingtonpost.com: Deluge Shuts Down Post Blog , ( Post, Jan. 21 )

Jim Brady: Many.

Jane Hamsher: There is a big difference between "several" and "hundreds." Is it a "dozen" as Strauss said, or "hundreds" as Brady said in the Hugh Hewett interview?

I think Jim Brady owes us some specifics.

Jim Brady: I don't know the exact number, but I can assure you it was more than dozen. I removed about 50 myself.

And, Jane, since you obviously don't want to discuss the topic at hand and would instead prefer to play Columbo, let me pose a question to you: I looked at your blog last night in preparation for this, and in addition to all the nice things you had to say about me, I noticed that you often link to "WaPo" articles that are critical of the Bush Administration and give them your implied endorsement. But then when we publish something that doesn't fit into your worldview, we're called "shills of the GOP." Which is it? You can't have it both ways, but you seem to want to.

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New York, N.Y.: How was this panel selected? Why did The Post include Glenn Reynolds, whose Web site doesn't include comments? Why does Mr. Reynolds not allow comments on his site?

Jim Brady: It seems if you're having a discussion panel on a topic, you ought to get people who represent different viewpoints. Glenn doesn't allow comments, we do but have decided to set rules and Jane allows anyone to post anything. Jeff and Jay are both respected observers of Web culture. Seems like a pretty well-rounded panel to me. If we'd only allowed people who allow comments, there wouldn't have been as much to debate.

_______________________

Mackinaw, Ill.: Why not just have verified registration required for commenters?

Jeff Jarvis: But there have been many times when I've wanted to add something to a discussion (which sounds better than merely commenting, eh?) and did not because of the speed bump of having to register. So that affects the value of the conversation. And even if people do register, it's no guarantee they will not (or should not) offend or cannot create identities for the sake of snarking. Personally, I do give more credence to comment from those who put their name behind what they say -- which is why I also value it when people take up their own space on their own blogs under their own names to comment.

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New York, N.Y.: Mr Brady,

Ms Hamsher has remarked on her blog that the notion that your comments section could be taken down by inappropriate speech ("trolls" as she puts it) is very difficult to credit. It's very difficult to believe that a site as well-designed and well-managed as washingtonpost.com did not anticipate and plan for this problem, which has haunted online discussions from the very beginning of the UseNet. Do you really think that people buy this story?

Jim Brady: Well, it should be noted that we've had message boards for years, and blogs for about a year, so we have been doing this for a while. But we've never really had any problems with this kind of flurry of problematic posts, so it's probably fair to say we were not prepared for it, either technically or from a human resource standpoint. If you don't believe that's the reason we shut it down, I doubt anything I say here will change your mind.

Jay Rosen: Since the age of interactivity began, Big Media companies have had a tendency to set up forums where the readers can play by themselves-- without intervention, or added costs. "Here's where you can have your say" is the tip off. But eventually an unmoderated forum is going to cause trouble. And what users want is not just to have their say, but also to be listened to. When they sense that is not happening, the forum is in trouble.

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Irving, Tex.: Do you see comments as a useful tool in refining (to put it as inoffensively as possible) the accuracy of the original post? I think the tone of the comments would have been quite different had Ms. Howell's original statements been more accurate.

Jeff Jarvis: Absolutely. My readers are my editors. They're also my reporters. See how Steve Baker and Heather Green at blogspotting.net (a Business Week blog) ask their readers for input and questions and information before they write their stories.

Jay Rosen: Not only is it a "useful tool," but I think eventually that kind of feedback will make possible a higher level of accuracy.

Jim Brady: And beyond accuracy, we've found in some of our local blogs that great story ideas come from reader comments. So it's a win-win if you can keep the tone right, which is not that hard in 90 percent of the areas we have blogs.

Jeff Jarvis: I'd say the big challenge and opportunity is not to make interactivity reactive but to open the floor to the public to report. Why don't we use this technology to seek out stories of health care issues to report the big story on the health care crisis before we publish the story?

_______________________

Chicago, Ill.: My questions are to anyone who will answer it, but likely geared towards Jane Hamsher: A central notion to the founding of our great country was a free press. Given the mergers and corporate business environment of BIG MEDIA, how can we even say or pretend to say that the "media" is free?

The media is beholden to a few corporations who do not care for the truth. And the blogosphere has exposed the lies of big media a million times. This is why the blogosphere is becoming a more reliable source of information. Question: Can the big media outlets get back to the credibility and trust they once had, if so, how? Or are the blogs going to be the one that has to smack people with the truth?

Jeff Jarvis: First, I'll argue that big media getting bigger should be seen as dinosaurs huddling together against the cold of the digital ice age.

Second, as a journalist, I'd ask you to keep in mind that reporters and editors, like bloggers, are individuals of conscience. Of course, they can be stopped from doing what they think is right by bosses. Of course, bosses can have bad motives. But I think it is a mistake to lump all journalists in all companies into a big, bad corporate bucket just as it is a mistake to lump all bloggers into a mass of rabble.

That is why I think journalism has to get back to the human level. That is why I'd like to see reporters and editors blogging. And then you will know them as individuals, not merely as employees.

_______________________

Ann Arbor, Mich.: Some of you have comments on your weblog, and some don't--notably Glenn Reyholds and, now, parts of the Washington Post. We know about the Washington Post situation. Would Glenn Reynolds explain about his decision not to have comments?

Glenn Reynolds: I've already done this in one of the other posts. Basically it boils down to time, and my fear that comments by trolls would be attributed unfairly to me, as has happened to others. Plus, it's not like it's hard for people to get their own blogs.

Jay Rosen: I must say I have never heard of that concern before: "media reports would attribute comment trolls to me, so I don't have them."

I have comments at my blog, and they are completely open. I not only monitor them carefully, I'm an

active presence

in comment threads and I argue a lot with readers. I get mad at them too. A great many users have told me that while I write good posts, what they really like is the range of reactions from others in comments. For some, that discussion is a primary, not a second-order good on offer at PressThink.

Glenn Reynolds: It happened to Charles Johnson and he was quite upset. Perhaps the press would be more sensitive where you're concerned, Jay.

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Washington, D.C.: Gentlemen and lady,

What separates a journalist or a reporter from a blogger? Is it education? Training? Experience?

If it's simply a matter of substantiated facts versus unbridled opinion, then I think it's safe to say that there is no line anymore. The best bloggers perform exhaustive research across multiple media sources to provide substantiation of their opinions --ask anyone who's crosslinked multiple Web sites for a single blog entry on, say, Jack Abramoff.

Conversely, reporters who publish news articles -- not opinion columns, mind you, but front-page news -- will often insert their own views into the piece, or their editor will "tailor" the piece to fit a particular viewpoint or audience.

So where is the line drawn? And if there is no line, are we looking at a future where literally anyone can be a journalist or reporter?

Jeff Jarvis: I argue that we should not be talking about "who is a journalist" but rather "what is an act of journalism"? And anyone can, indeed, perform such an act, and that doesn't mean only reporting; it also means adding facts and corrections and questions and editing as well (bloggers on my RSS feed are my editors). Journalism should not be a closed society of people. Journalism must be an open act of society. And the professional journalists need to find more ways to enable that. That is how journalism will grow even as newspapers shrinnk.

Glenn Reynolds: I agree. Journalism is an activity. When you do journalism, you're a journalist. When you don't, you're not, no matter where you get your paycheck.

_______________________

Palacios, Tex.: To what extent do you think the tone of voice of the original post influences the tone of the comments received as feedback, and how do you personally define ethics so that you might arbitrate online ethics for the rest of us?

Glenn Reynolds: I think it's nice to set a tone on a blog. It's a bit harder in a Big Media setting, though it can be done. But the tone works most where regular visitors are concerned; when you get a flood of new visitors, they often don't know, or don't care, what the etiquette of that setting involves.

Jay Rosen: To what extent? A lot.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: For The Post to continue discussing only the question of public comments without discussing what brought them on in the first place is like talking about the levees and ignoring the hurricane that topped them. I think The Post needs to invite public discussion of the role of its ombudsman, the current ombudsman, and the future of its reporting and accountability to the public.

Jay Rosen: It would be far better for this discussion if the ombudsman, Deborah Howell, were participating; I would gladly give up my slot. I'd like to know how she sees her job in an interactive age. Also: Who does she represent? I also believe that Jim Brady and Washingtonpost.com should consider having a public editor for the site, not to do what the Post ombudsman does but to make the Post.com more responsive and two-way.

Jeff Jarvis: I agree that Howell should be -- and should want to be -- here. Jim: Was she asked?

But I disagree with Jay about WashingtonPost.com having its own ombudsman. I argued in my blog yesterday that papers should not have ombudsmen. I believe it creates another false separation between the journalists and the public and it gives the journalists cover not not interact and be responsive. It should be everyone's job to "ombud."

Jim Brady: Deborah has chosen for the time being not to any live discussions, but we've talked about it, and you'll see her on here at some point.

Jeff Jarvis: I'll push the transparency button: Why not? I worked with Deborah (at my last job). She is, indeed, tough. So I don't believe she fears this; I wouldn't make that simplistic assumption. So I have to believe she has a reason she believes is good for avoiding live interaction. What is it?

Glenn Reynolds: Yeah, I agree with Jeff here.

I don't have a very strong opinion on the underlying issue myself -- I think there's a fair amount of manufactured outrage, really, often from people who aren't nearly as careful in describing, say, Dick Cheney's relationship to Halliburton -- but when people challenge you on the facts, you should respond quickly. The Post should have responded within 24 hours, it seems to me.

Jay Rosen: I just think if you're an ombudsman or public editor in this day and age, you need a blog with comments, and a column, and a weekly Q and A. I would grant that there are many ways to do the job, and reply to readers, but who should be in greater interaction than the ombudsman? No one.

I agree with Glen that there is sometimes "manufactured outrage" in these blow-ups. But there's also manufactured calm, as in:

the right thinks we're positively liberal, the left thinks we're objectively pro-Bush, we must doing something right, and they're never going to satisfied anyway!

To me that's phony too, a formula for responding but not a real response.

If all sides are trashing you for a poor job you could be doing something right. You could also be doing everything wrong. I mean it's possible.

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Alexandria, Va.: I think the Post has to decide what kind of online community it wants to have. It can have a one-way, filtered letters-to-the-editor type of community, or it can have a participatory community with a lively exchange stimulated by the material the paper publishes.

If you choose the first, you can avoid public criticism and protect "the brand," and it may be less work.

If you choose the latter, you'll have to filter some language and for your own good, you'd better learn not be defensive when you've made a mistake, but you have the potential to gain a devoted and passionate community who really care about the work you do. You'll also gain a vast volunteer research staff -- we make no claims to have the training and resources that journalists do, but there are a lot of us, we're Internet-savvy, and we'll produce mounds of well-sourced material if you care to give us a place to do it. (Actually, we're already doing it, but some of it will go on in your space if you let it.)

Jay Rosen: I think you're exactly right. But from what I can tell washingtonpost.com does not want to be a one-way site. The full implications of that decision do not sink in all at once; they unfold over time, and this incident with Deborah Howell has unfolded a few more. Eventually, we'll learn that some journalism is best done in a low-interactivity, almost one-way state, while other situations demand constant and subtle interactivity. (The very first of those that comes to mind is, of course, the ombudsman's role.) On any beat where users know way more than a single reporter could, the best way to do the beat will be the two-way, richly interactive, networked approach. An example would be covering a huge company that dominates the economy of a given region. Many thousands of people know stuff about that company. The old-fashioned, one-way, I'm-the-expert style would produce inferior journalism.

_______________________

Chicopee, Mass.: As a woman blogger with a background in ethics, I am extraordinarily disappointed in The Post's choice of Jane Hamsher for this panel. It makes no sense. You have big-time thinker/professors, and then bring out a woman whose background is Hollywood and who she knows. Nothing in her bio indicates that she knows anything about ethics or about journalism. And The Post cannot seriously say there aren't any women out there that are qualified to discuss this topic. The Post merely took the easy way out and went with a crony. Next time, why not at least attempt to look for women who think with their heads?

Tish Grier

Writer/Blogger/Consultant

Snarkaholic

SXSWInteractive Panelist (Us/Them: A blog conversation guide)

Glenn Reynolds: I don't think you have to be a professional journalist, or ethicist, to have opinions on journalism and ethics.

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New York, N.Y.: Why does Professor Reynolds dislike comments on his site, when by linking to the Transit Workers Union Site, they got nearly a 1000 comments of truly vulgar and racially hostile nature, to the point where the union had to close down comments.

He felt free to inhibit the free speech of others, but seems to be afraid to allow that level of exchange on his own site.

Glenn Reynolds: I don't think I was the source of those comments -- they came from people who live in NYC and were inconvenienced by the strike, and the comments were overwhelmingly hostile before I ever linked. Of course, it was the Transit Union's choice whether or not to have comments on their blog. They chose poorly.

Glenn Reynolds: I should add that it's an odd concept of "limiting the free speech of others" that involves linking to someone's blog.

_______________________

Chicago, Ill.: It seems entirely legitimate to close down a discussion if the participants abandon civility at the expense of emotional outrage. It is one thing to express your outrage through careful prose, but it is another to carelessly rant through the employment of inappropriate, and really puerile, commentary.

Assuming you permitted open comments on your site, wouldn't you close down a discussion that was drifting into oblivious name calling? Furthermore, when comments trail into a repetitive nature, isn't that a sign that the discussion is providing no value and thus should be closed to preserve bandwidth?

Jeff Jarvis: Yes, I agree about rampant stupidity and personal attacks and such. I've killed such comments on my blog and reserve the right to do so. It's my party.

But let's examine an assumption in this debate:

Do we really need editors to protect us from discussion? Don't we know who the asses and nuts and idiots are? The presumption that we need to be shielded from them is a bit paternalistic.

Glenn Reynolds: I think "it's my party" is the key to this debate. You may not tell people at your party what to talk about -- though you may suggest that Uncle Ted stop holding forth on the Hephthalite Huns past a certain point -- but you certainly might eject people who are peeing on the drapes. Let 'em get their own drapes, and have their own drape-peeing party if that's what they want.

Jeff Jarvis: Glenn: I have done that and replaced the drapes. But I try to do it as little as possible. And that works for me. Some threads get taken over by a two-way rant and no one else wants to enter in. But the discussion about this very topic on my blog is quite illuminating for me. And the curtains are clean.

Jane Hamsher: You seem to be accepting the premise that civility is abandoned when if fact by Strauss's own admission there was about a 99% civility rate. This is the Washington Post we're talking about. Do they feel nothing of an obligation to air their readers' complaints? Their readers were complaining about an error. They did not bother to engage in the conversation at all. They did nothing to try and moderate that conversation when it was unfolding.

The Post was unprepared. There is always going to be uncivil commentary. People are going to get negative. To not be prepared for this is outrageous.

The established an interactive feature and then they didn't interact.

Jay Rosen: I think Jim Brady has agreed that the Post was caught unprepared. There you are: common ground!

_______________________

Greta, Wash.: For Ms. Hamsher

Wait a minute! You organized an attack on a book at Amazon.com that you admitted you never read but you nonetheless disliked. You had hundreds of your readers file bad reviews at your urging in order to affect the book's ranking at Amazon. This is childish behavior in the extreme and of course, Amazon eventually deleted the reviews as was their right. You used to produce films. I saw "Double Dragon" and I told other people to not watch it because it was crap, as is my right. The Post has the right to edit any way they please, do they not?

Glenn Reynolds: Seems like Jane should answer this, since she's a champion of interactivity.

Jeff Jarvis: Heh.

_______________________

Kansas City, Mo.: First of all, I find it refreshing that this chat is taking place. Nice to see a dialogue.

It seems to me that shutting down comments on post.blog, the liberal reviews that were removed on Amazon's section of O'Briene's book (some which were funny) and other such limits to discussion are due, in large part, to the growing divide between the left and right.

But limiting the discussion does nothing to bring us all back to a place where we can agree to disagree. Instead, it's one flame war after another. Granted, it's not like my blog (which I won't pimp here ... "pimp" is acceptable language, right?) contains a moderate tone or anything, but I'd be more than willing to read a different opinion in my comments.

Do any of you think we'll get back to that place, either online or in "real life" communications, or are blogs, message boards, et al just making the divide even worse?

Jeff Jarvis: I think interactivity is making it better. Media portray us as a nation of red v. blue, at war over state lines. We're not. Blogs and the links of both agreement and disagreement among them show that we're grayer than that. I piss off both right and left on my blog because I don't fit the easy definition of either. No one does. Well, not many do. I think the sound we're hearing now is the the sound of a vigorous debate in democracy. And the more it happens on a personal level, the more civil it will be, I hope. It may sound like a cacophony. But more voices are good.

Jay Rosen: The divide is part of politics, not a distraction from it. Periods of intense partisanship are also periods of high participation in politics.

_______________________

Charles Town, W.Va.: Please define profanity and show us some examples of what you received. Keep in mind that Howell is on record for using some fairly salty language herself.

Please define ombudsman and give us an example of how Howell has fulfilled this role.

How did you come by these particular panelists?

Thank you.

Jane Hamsher: That's a good point about Deborah Howell.

I understand what a hard-knuckle game that journalism is; salty language doesn't bother me and I'm surprised that someone with Howell's years of experience, especially a woman coming up in a man's field, would be so sensitive.

It can't be the first time she's heard these words. In fact we know

it isn't

.

_______________________

Rochester, N.Y.: Self moderating sites like Slashdot and Kos help enormously in having the community promote good comments. If the reader wants all the sludge, they can lower their rating setting (at least on Slashdot). Then all the nasty stuff stays rated at the bottom and no one sees it.

Jeff Jarvis: I agree... in theory. But I also think that karma systems can create a new royalty and can overcomplicate interactivity. I wish there were better technology aids but then, we're still smart enough to outsmart them, I hope.

Glenn Reynolds: The Slashdot system isn't perfect, but it's the best thing I've seen so far for dealing with comments on that scale. I'm surprised that media sites don't use it, but I don't know of any that do. It's pretty easy to use (I've edited a slashcode site before) and stable.

Jeff Jarvis: I was on the board of the company that started Plastic.com, which tried to bring Slashdot code to a larger audience with wider subject matter. To oversimplify: It didn't work. It was too complicated and offputting for people who were not part of the clique.

_______________________

Fredericksburg, Tex.: Perhaps rude commenters are indirectly encouraged by bloggers. Bloggers who have advertisers need "hits" of whatever kind to keep their numbers up. Maybe if we bloggers were as demanding of ourselves and our commenters as we are (rightly, I believe) of MSM, the flamers would burn out. Meanwhile, until mainstream media get beyond kowtowing to their advertisers and sources, they will continue to get a lot of flak from subscribers and from bloggers, some of it politely phrased, some of it not.

Jeff Jarvis: But it's just such content that discourages advertisers. Sorry to burst that conspiracy theory but it's not a matter of greed.

Jay Rosen: To want the established news media to be more open, and the right to spew filth at journalists is being pretty immature. In this people have to know what their agenda is.

_______________________

Los Angeles, Calif.: Hello, this question is for Mr. Brady.

Some years ago I owned a service business, so I sympathize with the difficulty of dealing with irate customers. The tendency to shut down the phone system and go into hiding is normal, but not really good business.

So, I commend you for holding this forum to address better ways of handling complaints about your product. One thing I learned not to do in business, however, was to treat all of my customers as vile, nasty people whose complaints were politically motivated or otherwise without validity, on the basis of one or several people whose complaints went over the line.

Is there any movement within the newsroom of The Washington Post to sift through the complaints you received to address any legitimate complaints you might find, such as a call for documented evidence of Democratic complicity in Abramoff's crimes?

Jim Brady: This reader did not make the point, but it reminds me of something I've seen a lot... One of the themes that has come out in a lot of the comments and emails I have gotten has been that the use of profanity and personal attacks was warranted by the mistake that Deborah made. Yes, she made a mistake, but I don't think a mistake should automatically change the rules of the road. In fact, when there's a mistake, making a point should be much easier made without straying from the rules.

Jeff Jarvis: But, Jim, aren't most readers smart enough to know that themselves? I'm not arguing that you keep up venomous and otherwise worthless attacks for attacks' sake. But sometimes, I find it useful to let comments that go overboard speak for themselves.

Jim Brady: Sure, but there really is a difference between running a blog and being a web site affiliated with a newspaper. In the position post.com is in, where we work closely with the newspaper on a daily basis, allowing people to call Post staffers vulgar names isn't something we're going to tolerate. Again, you want to criticize their work product, go ahead. You think the reporting or the writing is faulty, make those points. But I still don't understand why profanity and personal attacks need to be part of that equation.

_______________________

Artesia, N.M.: Jim Brady, you're trying to define the primary issue as civility -- as if it's a shock that people use bad language. But the primary issue is credibility. The Post's ombudsman relayed a blatantly false Republican talking point, offered a late and grudging limited "apology", and then you shut down a forum that showed your customers were angry about it. Stop acting like you never heard bad language before and start addressing the actual issue.

Jane Hamsher: That's a really good question. For someone with a sports journalism background, I'd sure like to know the words Brady claims he's never heard before.

_______________________

Gloucester, Mass.: As a commenter to the blog who twice received a reply from Hal Straus, I am very glad to see The Washington Post taking this opportunity to discuss the issue of blog comments. The blogs I enjoy and value are those in which the blogger is involved and interactive with the comments and who considers the comments as an extension of the original post. This, to me, creates an environment where anger and disrespect are defused before they become an issue and where the community self-moderates to a significant extent to protect the integrity of the discussion. Do members of the panel have experience with this type of blog community and could they comment on this as a model? Is this something The Washington Post could consider for its blogs, perhaps for a specific period of time after the column runs, and understanding that columnists have other columns to work on, specific only to that post? Particularly for an ombudsman, I see this as a strategy to increase interaction with readers on a given issue and an effective way to address timely response complaints as occurred with the Howell column.

Thank you.

Jeff Jarvis: To carry this on in a question for Jim: What proportion of columnists and reporters (and editors) want to blog? And is there any rule stopping any of them from doing so? Do you h have the rule others have (see: The Times) that one cannot blog outside on topics one covers?

Jim Brady: We have between 25 and 30 blogs on the site now, and almost half are done by Post or post.com staffers. There are indeed other Post staffers who want to write a blog or column, and we take them on a case-by-case basis. We don't have any rule like the one you cited, but obviously, subject matter and the reporter's expertise in that subject is something that helps us make the decision.

_______________________

Alexandria, Va.: I think washingtonpost.com has learned that a week is a long time in internet time. Will WaPo be reconsidering leaving misleading content uncorrected on the internet? Has a correction been appended to Deborah's original column?

Jane Hamsher: A lot of the uproar came as we waited for that to happen. The last time I looked no correction has been appended to her original column.

This is the ombudsman, it's her job to respond to reader criticism. They set up a system where readers could respond to her column instantaneously and she refused to address those concerns.

That she continues to play the victim only throws fuel on the fire.

_______________________

Glenn Reynolds: Well, this has been fun, if a bit technically distracting -- I've never used this software before, and I'm simultaneously guestblogging at Wonkette.

I think that the Post has learned a lot from this, though whether it's the lesson some commenters want them to learn isn't so clear . . . .

Papers like the Post need to listen to their readers, I think, just as any business needs to listen to its customers. I don't think that they owe a *platform* to their readers, though. As I've said before, anyone can get a blog, and the Post's enabling of Technorati links to its stories turns the blogosphere into its comment section, really. Which is, in fact, how it is for everyone.

_______________________

Jeff Jarvis: We're told it's time to write closing statements: The stair scene in The Sound of Interactivity. If anyone wants to poke my platitudes, please feel free to do so in a post on this topic over at Buzzmachine. (And, no, that was not a plug for traffic). Thanks, all, for the interaction.

_______________________

Jay Rosen: Thanks to Jim Brady and washingtonpost.com for inviting me. Thanks to Jane, Glenn and Jeff for some great responses. Thanks to all the bloggers and observers reading this who could have easily taken my place and done just as well. Thanks to PressThink readers for sifting though all this with me.

Try to realize this, everyone. The mentality of one-way, one-to-many media has been accumulating, layer-on-layer for more than 250 years of press history. The dramatic and surprising shift away from those conditions, which we are living though now, is going to be one long, tough, brutal, noisy, wrenching thing; but in the end it is bringing greater democracy to the means of information, and to the people who have always informed us.

I think this episode with the post.blog and Deborah Howell is a chapter in that story, and it's good that we could write a coda to it here.

_______________________

Jane Hamsher: I appreciate the opportunity to come here and answer readers' questions, I consider it part of the bloggers' mandate and admire both Jim Brady and the washingtonpost.com for being on the forefront of this kind of interactivity.

_______________________

Jim Brady: Anyway, this was fun, and I appreciate everyone's time in participating. There were a lot of good questions and good answers as well. Appreciate everyone's honesty, and willingness to engage is a good discussion. Thanks and feel free to keep the e-mails coming to executive.editor@wpni.com. I can't answer them all, but am reading them.

_______________________

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


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