As you may know, we preview and approve reader comments before they're posted at PostBulletin.com. Some commenters were bent out of shape and claimed we were censoring comments when we made that change about a year ago. We don't "censor" comments we disagree with, but we won't approve comments that are libelous, defamatory, vulgar, racist or discriminatory in other ways, or include personal attacks.
Without question, this has cleaned up the comments on our stories and in our blogs. Prior to the change, we'd have to clean up the mess after the fact; now, we head problems off before they appear online. Though you won't find a goldmine of enlightened discourse in our reader comments on stories, the comments have more value than they used to.
Previewing comments is time-consuming and a hassle for editors, but it simply has to be done.
As the MinnPost editor says in his column, "Since our beginning in November 2007, we've been credited with developing and maintaining one of the most civil environments in the nation for online commenters at a news site. We intend to preserve that reputation, and we encourage more readers to take part in our online discussions -- respectfully."
Among the points I think we can duplicate at PostBulletin.com:
"We do not allow ad hominem attacks and gratuitous insults aimed at commenters."
"We do not allow the use of nicknames for people or groups that are meant to denigrate or deride." (I would quibble with MinnPost that "Democrat" or "Tea Party" fits that definition, but there are plenty of ugly epithets that are used that are truly disqualifying.)
And, "user comments may be included or excluded at our discretion."
That last point's an obvious but important one. We waste a fair amount of time in the newsroom talking about whether we should or shouldn't delete a comment. It's not that complicated. Past a certain point, it's a judgment call by the editor approving the comments, and I'm confident that those judgments are being made reasonably.
Look for changes along these lines at our website before long.