Saturday, July 15, 2006

When good blogs go bad

I've been doing a blog for almost a year and now am considering stopping or fundamentally changing my approach. Why? Over time I have determined that the blog doesn't do what I'd hoped -- it has not fostered a give and take about coverage with readers (including critics) of The N&O. Instead, it seems to have a mostly silent readership and few commenters, all anonymous, including a few who simply visit to throw grenades.

Lately, the blog has more or less been hijacked by some people -- mostly out of state commenters -- who think the Duke lacrosse players are innocent and that The N&O is to blame for their troubles. They don't appear to read our coverage and pay little attention to my responses to their questions/accusations. One particularly obsessed commenter, for instance, accuses us of taking our stories off the wire (the wire picks up our stories and she sees them elsewhere, so thinks we're taking from the wire)

I'm continuing to post on various topics, including Duke lacrosse coverage from time to time, while I think about whether this endeavor is worth continuing. Some change is in order. I don't have time to monitor comments or "police" the blog. Some of the comments, beyond their attacks on me, are reckless with facts and it concerns me that I am playing host to this level of junk.

Please share any suggestions or comments. (But for god's sake, use your name! :) )


  1. How much do you manage or control the comments, Melanie? Do you consider simply eliminating or banning repeat offenders? Do you know how widely read (as oppossed to commented upon) your posts are?

  2. Melanie:

    Mark Vasche and I have been blogging for about nine months, and our blog has yet to fulfill the utopian concept of robust civic engagement.

    Many of my posts trigger only a couple of comments, if any. But that's OK because I know a lot of people are reading what I'm writing and I'm thus able to get some points across to the public that I wouldn't otherwise. Various readers, p.r. types and public officials have told me they check the blog regularly.

    We've had a smattering of "you stink" comments, and a handful of bloggers have posted pointed anti-Bee comments on their own blogs. Some bloggers have spoken up and asked others to "play nice," and I'm grateful for that.

    At present, we don't have any major local story of nationwide interest, so we're not drawing many folks to the blog from outside our area. That can change, of course, faster than you can say "Gary Condit."

    Overall, the blog is just one of several ways we're trying to open our operations to the public and tell our side of the media story.

    Our blog is at I'd make that a hyperlink, but I'm posting from home on a non-standard browser on my wife's Mac. This whole thing could go "poof!" in one keystroke.


  3. As a sometimes reader of your blog, Melanie, I've always felt that, whatever its readership, it was striking a pretty solid blow for making you and the N&O more accessible to readers. (Just knowing that you're doing it would make a difference to many people, wouldn't it?) But as you say, the level of responses, the time it takes to post and police, the extremist posters, etc., make you wonder if the benefits exceed the costs. Bottom line: I hope you don't stop cold.

  4. Dan -- her mac will handle it fine if you use Firefox or Camino as a browser rather than Safari ...

  5. Melanie -- In many cases we've had the same experience here -- people who post too often tend to be extreme in what they say, are cavalier with fact or they get personal.

  6. Howard, in fact I'm told we are not able to block individual users, which I learned after telling one commenter he'd have to shape up or be blocked.

    David, thanks for the input, I'm torn about the whole thing. The blog at times is very useful.

  7. Melanie, you've shown admirable restraint with some of your bloggers who appear to have a screw or two loose.

    Here in Beaufort, I've tried to monitor the blogs closely and respond to the bloggers' questions and concerns when appropriate. That could be a full-time job by itself, but the bottom line is that although they often disagree when my take is different from theirs, I think the fact that I'm responding at all scores points with the readership. I imagine your willingness to do the same at the N&O is similarly appreciated. This clearly is the way our business is evolving, and I'm excited about the possibilities.

    - Steve

  8. From the interactive side at, the blogs have been an interesting experiment. As Dan mentioned in his note above, we have occassional comments on postings, but most are from the same-old-same-old.

    The one challenge we are facing from an administrative side is the association with the paper. We often get letters of complaint against posters, and most of them read "I can't believe The Bee sanctions this kind of ..."

    A couple of posters have gotten into squabbles - often spilling into the blog postings of others - and we have had to block them for a period of time. A clever user can get around that, but they took their suspension gracefully.

    I think the blogs are a neat idea, but we have had to spend a good amount of time making sure they don't just turn into our forums.

    Eric Johnston,

  9. Just to prove I can do it, here's the link the our blog:

  10. I don't have a blog yet, but I'm about to start an Ask the Editors feature, similar to what the New York Times and Spokane do. We will read all questions before they appear and some might not make the cut. I feel that this will be more useful than a blog. It should allow back-and-forth discussion but won't be vulnerable to hijacking. I'll let you know how it works out.

  11. I started a wine blog a few months ago in conjunction with Wine Press Northwest (the magazine, Web site, ezine and video podcast). Traffic has been good for such a niche audience (200 to 300 page views per day).

    We're running it through Drupal, so it's pretty simple for users to comment, as long as they register through inSite.

    Yet despite the fact that many serious wine lovers cannot shut up in person, I am lucky to get two comments per week. This certainly isn't the interaction I hoped for, but I know it's being well read and traffic is growing, so I'm OK with that. At least the audience has the opportunity to speak if it wants to.

    Perhaps the sense of interactivity is almost as good as true interactivity?

    (BTW, Howard, all links were made with Safari, though I prefer Firefox.)

  12. Yeah, Andy, but you can CODE ...

  13. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  14. Ignorant free speech often works against the speaker. That is one of several reasons why it must be given rein instead of oppressed. -- Anna Quindlen

    Our website in Charlotte has forums where many of the evil posters go. Perhaps that steam outlet keeps the pot from boiling over.

    Still, our blogs have nasty anonymous moments. My most-recent favorite, on the blog of a young woman who feels old before her time:
    "You could stand to lose a few pounds, honestly. Why don't you try a diet and exercise?"

    The blogger didn't respond. I think that's the answer -- no answer at all.

    Then get some good thoughtful people to post.

  15. I manage comments in my blog but have posted virtually all of them. I've only rejected them when the reader continued, relentlessly, on a theme. Rather than comments, however, I seem to get e-mails from readers about blog posts. I respond and we have a healthy discussion started.