Monday, November 5, 2007

Public Editor Seeks Civility (and finds it lacking at

Clark Hoyt is the Public Editor of the New York Times (a position created in the wake of the Jayson Blair scandal). His column this weekend, "Civil Discourse, Meet the Internet," began with the following disclaimer:

WARNING: This column contains rude and objectionable language not normally found in the pages of this newspaper but seen surprisingly often on its Web site.

As the title and warning suggest, Hoyt's column details the messy side of web interactivity. Most of the time, this is confined to boorishness. But the convention of anonymous posting in the blogosphere is particularly conducive to both unsupported claims and personal attacks. The traditional approach to journalism is being challenged, and informed by, so-called citizen journalism.
From Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher, on down, executives and editors of The Times use similar language to describe their goal: they want the newspaper's Web site to nurture a healthy, "civil discourse" on the topics of the day.

As Hoyt notes, however, "the real Internet world often falls far short." He cites the challenges that vex Kate Phillips, editor of The Caucus,'s political blog:
...Phillips said she struggles sometimes with the "intolerance" and "vitriol" she sees in some comments—so much so that on rare occasions "I almost wish we could go back to the days when we never heard their voices."

The most challenging ethical problems often require forbearance in the face of unruly, unexpected or undignified behavior. Yet, ethics is a normative pursuit, one whose ultimate purpose is to distinguish between the acceptable and unacceptable. Some have argued for an internet conversation ungoverned by standards. While you can't yell "Fire!" in a theater, you're still pretty free to write whatever you like online.

Is this what we want from the internet? Is this all we want from it?


verplanck colvin said...

Is the NYT really concerned about civility, or are they worried that people will publicly point out flawed journalism (e.g. Judith Miller)?

The article shows a grand total of one offensive comment out of the thousands that it receives. For the rest, we have to rely on the judgment of the NYT folks, who voice thoughts like "I almost wish we could go back to the days when we never heard their voices."

Really, if the worst that the NYT gets is some right-wing nutjob ranting about illegal immigration, who cares? 98% of the people reading the site recognize it as legitimate as the kook who holds up those "world is ending!" signs, ignore him/her, and engage the more reasoned commentators.

It's a simple concept adopted by most liberal blogs: don't feed the trolls. It works surprisingly well. It also has the benefit of not looking like censorship.

Anonymous said...

Thank the Schools - i used to teach for the Chicago PUblic Schools and was shocked at how chldren were reacting. The tripe they brought with them, their language and attitudes and general lack of civility was astounding! When they have no home environ to get it from, or when daddy is in the joint (or running with the gang) and momma is selling her tail on the corner to buy a rock (or the equivalent) it's really bad.

NO problem - that's just the ghetto, you say?


The societal rot is really bad and it's all over.


MICHAEL SAVAGE in 2008!!!!

[jm.n] said...

Ethics -- acceptable and/or unacceptable behaviour.
Blogging -- online journal expressing whatever ... whether we like it or not. Usually of the personal kind -- internal thoughts about one's life, sharing food and knitting recipes, hobbies of one kind or another, etc. Usually of limited readership.
Commercial blogging -- hhmmm...? Ways to connect with customers of any kind?

Good newspapers always are meant to make us think on issues we normally wouldn't consider. Often this makes us uncomfortable. Often the only way we respond/retaliate when uncomfortable/upset is to hit back in some way -- that's the norm for those who haven't learned to be objective/impartial/see the big picture, are ignorant, in the literal sense. Expect it! Encourage the objector by further clarifying his thinking based on the rant he has vented, but do it gently. :~))

Anonymous said...

As a legal professional, I have to think about Ethics a great deal but how many others do?

Journalism today has only one ethic: THE ALMIGHTY DOLLAR!

While the NY TIMES may be one of the worst examples of the politically correct anti-American insanity that we are suffering from, is the Chicago Tribune that much better?

I remember a day not too long ago when the Trib was viewed as a solid conservative voice here in the Windy City - a fitting tribue to Colonel Robert McCormick but things have changed radically at that paper. The Times has always been short on quality editorial content and I gave up on newspapers over ten years ago anyway. TV New in the (former) City of the Big Shoulders is even worse these days - and all we have is FOX (which is boring in the Ch. 32 incarnation) - but we DO have TALK RADIO:

WIND AM 560 saves and the day with a solid Conservative roster all day and WLS 890 AM is almost there (though they still make concessions with Roe Con, Deborah Rowe and my taken liberal, Nate Clay).

But I digress from the essentialsyllogiam - Civility?

Any teachers out here? How about telling folks what it's REALLY LIKE in the classoonm these days?

BTW did someonw say "Judgement" in the NY Times staff?

God Bless America,

The Advocate06 said...

Sadly, it seems EVERYTHING is down to the almighty dollar. The media used to be the one outlet the forgotten and ignored could count on to investigate and get the stories people dont want to hear out, Now... not so Much