An Improvement (Mostly) at the Billings Gazette

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It's been about a week since the Billings
Gazette changed its
comment policy
requiring that users register with an e-mail
address before posting on the site. Overall, it's been a huge
improvement, with the outright mindless hostility of the comments
field certainly reduced. My suspicion was always that stories would
often feature dozens of comments from the same poster, each posted
under another poorly developed false name. Overall, I've found
myself actually wanting to read the comments field again, and so,
on that account, it's definitely a success.

One element of the new policy was less well-thought out, though. In
addition to requiring registration, the site has implemented a
slashdot/digg style of voting comments up or down. The thought is
that thise feature will hide offensive, off topic or rude comments,
but the real impact has been to allow people to vote down
legitimate points of view. Instead of the vibrant debate one
assumes the Gazette wanted to create, they've created a tool that
allows legitimate points to be hidden by zealots.
This story
about a Gay Pride event in Billings, demonstrates
the problem this has created. Consider these comments, the first on
the story, which have both been voted down from view:

Yes – Billings is an inclusive city! Thank you Mayor
Tussing for stepping forward with the anti-discrimination
proclamation!

A huge "Thank-you" to the organizers and speakers at
Tuesday's gathering to oppose discrimination and to encourage
support of the Gay Pride Celebration 2007. My partner and I have
lived in larger and smaller communities than Billings, some of them
being more racial, ethnic and gay tolerant than Billings, others
being less tolerant. However this is the first time a city official
of any of the communities we have lived in has issued a
Proclamation encouraging tolerance, acceptance and celebration of
everyone in regard to any kind of celebration.

Nothing offensive, rude or inappropriate here. It's certainly
interesting to see how, deprived of their avenue of anonymous
namecalling and invective, some people resort to trying to silence
other people.

I'm impressed with the Gazette's leap into more modern features
for online papers, and I wish that other papers in Montana would
follow. If the Gazette wants to create vibrant community
discussion, they've made one huge step forward with required
registration, and one small step back with the voting system.


About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is a seventeen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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