News Leadership 3.0

July 01, 2009

BlogHer: Keeping the conversation civil

The mega network of women bloggers fosters a clean online conversation with clear guidelines and engaged users. “The Internet is perfect for passionate debate about issues people really care about. However, these debates must stop short of abusive behavior ...  if the community is going to thrive,” says CEO Lisa Stone

I still hear complaints from journalists at established news organizations about vile comments posted on their sites and the amount of time they spend monitoring them (either before or after the comments go live). Sadly, the frustration gets between journalists and communities they need to engage.

BlogHer is a network of women bloggers that reaches about 14 million women each month. With thousands of bloggers and such a large audience, you might expect a deluge of problematic comments, right?

Not so, says BlogHer CEO Lisa Stone. Other than SPAM, take downs are fairly rare, Stone says. She believes having clear guidelines for comments and engaging users in helping enforce them is key. Guidelines, Stone emphasizes, not rules that limit expression.

“The First Amendment is a key part of my personal religion as a journalist. And I don’t believe in a universal code of conduct for all sites on the Internet—sites on the Iraq war should not be held to the same standards as sites about children’s programming.

“That said, my experience working with women online since 1997 has convinced me that Web conversations are consistently more predictable and valuable to a community if they are moderated within certain guidelines. I’ve learned that civil disagreement should be encouraged. The Internet is perfect for passionate debate about issues people really care about. However, these debates must stop short of abusive behavior (harassment, abuse, stalking) if the community is going to thrive.”

Stone wrote the BlogHer guidelines in 2005, when she and two colleagues founded the network. She says they still work today. In “What are your community guidelines?” BlogHer explains its commitment to civil discourse and describes types of comments that are unacceptable and will be taken down. It’s a fairly long list with specifics.

Stone says they work for BlogHer’s bloggers and for the site’s advertisers as well.

The site’s content management system (Drupal) makes it “easy for any user to report content that violates these guidelines. And that’s the key. If you have an engaged community, where members care about the environment and conversation, users will help moderate and protect the space. Our amazing contributing editors have always reinforced our guidelines, but the guardians now are our users.”

I see an important distinction here. BlogHer sought to create a community around blogs and comments and has succeeded in growing it and making money from it. I suspect many traditional journalists still see comments as a sideshow to be tolerated rather than a main event. I think that perspective has to change before news sites can achieve anything close to a robust, civil conversation. Unfortunately, newsroom staff reductions make that ever more challenging.

In addition to guidelines, there are other practices that help foster good conversation online. I recommend this post by Mark Potts for details.

(Thanks to Susan Mernit for pointing out BlogHer’s guidelines.)

Comments

Hi Michele,

I really think you nailed it here:

I see an important distinction here. BlogHer sought to create a community around blogs and comments and has succeeded in growing it and making money from it. I suspect many traditional journalists still see comments as a sideshow to be tolerated rather than a main event. I think that perspective has to change before news sites can achieve anything close to a robust, civil conversation. Unfortunately, newsroom staff reductions make that ever more challenging.

It was a fundamental sea change for me to treat blog-reporting as a listening exercise, rather than a telling exercise. That’s a very different dynamic. What’s ironic is that the very best reporters and producers I ever worked with and tried to emulate—Bob Salladay, Paul Grabowicz, Rachele Kanigel, Eugenia Harvey, Brian Rhodes—were by far the best listeners in the room. I ultimately decided that was not a coincidence, tried to talk less and listen more! smile

Thanks for thinking we’re up to something of value.

Best,
Lisa


Hi Lisa:
Thanks for your comments. And the smiley! Best, Michele


nice content guys…. thanks
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Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

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