Putting boundaries on “reader engagement”

When we started providing online content in a blog format that allowed reader comment, we had to decide how quickly we wanted that feedback to appear.

Most news media entities allow comments to post immediately. The advantages of instant gratification and a “real time” dialog are important when the conversation is evolving with a real-time crisis or controversy. The disadvantages, however, are significant.

When you allow readers free access to voice their opinions about what you write, you’re giving people a platform to spread everything from (much-appreciated) thoughtful perspectives and interpretations to outrageous, uninformed and mean-spirited opinions. And you’re giving them a sizeable audience they wouldn’t have on their own.

As a company devoted to providing resources and support to parents, we didn’t feel the need to compromise appropriateness for speed. Comments on our blogs must be approved by the writer, or me as the editor, before they appear live on our site.

Never was I more grateful for that decision than yesterday, when I posted a brief blog linking to two articles I thought exemplified extraordinary writing under the deadline pressure of continuously unfolding events in Tucson. I wasn’t making any kind of political comment; I was complimenting remarkable writing.

A comment I saw in response this morning was completely inappropriate. “Vitriolic,” as Pima County Sheriff Clarence W. Dupnik¬†¬†might call it. Certainly ill-informed.

Thankfully, no one saw it but me.

Child development experts will tell you that out-of-control children crave boundaries. Out-of-control adults need them, too.

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