The following piece was originally published at blog The Spongeist. Crikey has republished with his permission…
If you work or are otherwise interested in the media industry, we live in interesting times. Digital distribution has drastically changed the landscape, creating a new state of play almost every day. For media professionals, keeping up with this change is incredibly challenging, but fortunately there are many excellent sources enabling you to do so, ranging from traditional media, to consultancies, to blogs.
While not very widely read (it is the eighth most popular newspaper), The Australian is the most serious-minded paper in the country. So it should be the best place to go for intelligent, comprehensive and knowledgeable analysis of the media industry, right? Not, unfortunately, on the latest evidence.
The right-leaning Australian has in the past become sidetracked by its own partisan political obsessions and petty vendettas, to (I believe) the detriment of its readership — as I’ve argued elsewhere. The latest example of this takes place in the paper’s Media Diary section, by veteran journo Caroline Overington. It’s a short snippet so I quote in full, but read it here:
ERIC Beecher’s nasty little website Crikey continues on its foul way. On Friday afternoon, it published the following comment from a reader: “The Australian will soon be deader than Frank Devine. Looks like it’s going to be a prolonged death, too, just like Frank’s!”
Devine was an editor of The Australian and father of Miranda Devine and a kinder, gentler soul you could not hope to meet.
Crikey has allowed readers to post disgusting comments before, but allowing a reader to gloat about a good man’s death is perhaps a new low.
Then again, it was just weeks ago that Crikey readers posted slurs about James Packer’s wife and children so foul and defamatory they could not be republished anywhere.
This was followed up again the next day. I quote in full again so you can appreciate the full idiocy, but read it here:
Crikey has published what it regards as an apology for the foul behaviour of its readers. Here’s a snippet:
There’s more in the same vein: it’s not our fault, it’s readers who don’t know how to behave properly; we do our best to pull them up when we catch them at it.
The comment about Frank Devine went up on Friday afternoon. Nobody in the comments thread said: “Hang on, that’s just awful” or “Hey, that’s cruel” — they just kept adding new comments.
The same thing happened when Crikey’s readers ripped into James Packer’s wife and children. Nobody said: “That’s a bit rough” or “Hold on, let’s leave the children out of our hate campaign”.
On the contrary, readers seemed to be competing to say something more putrid than was said before.
On both occasions, Crikey acted only when The Australian called them on it — which, when you think about it, tells you all you need to know. They are blind to how ugly they are.
So, essentially, The Australian’s Media Diary — “this week’s take on Australian media” — has taken to trawling through the comments section of another website in search of offensive material, and then holding the site accountable for its readers’ comments. Let’s take this point by point:
“Crikey has allowed readers to post disgusting comments before, but allowing a reader to gloat about a good man’s death is perhaps a new low.”
Crikey uses a post-moderation commenting policy, which means they check reader comments only after they’ve been published. Criticising Crikey for “allowing” this reader to comment is meaningless — you are essentially criticising them for allowing any reader to comment, or for allowing reader comments full stop.
“There’s more in the same vein: it’s not our fault, it’s readers who don’t know how to behave properly; we do our best to pull them up when we catch them at it.”
Well, yes, Caroline. Crikey would say that — because it is true. Check Crikey’s Code of Conduct, which is freely available if you’re curious.
“One problem: The comment about Frank Devine went up on Friday afternoon. Nobody in the comments thread said: ‘Hang on, that’s just awful’ or ‘Hey, that’s cruel’ — they just kept adding new comments.”
Is it the job of Crikey readers to police other readers’ comments? To be fair, Crikey respectfully ask their readers to do just this in their Code of Conduct. And if they fail, is that Crikey’s fault? If there’s a factual error in The Australian do you blame your readers for not ringing you up and telling you?
“On both occasions, Crikey acted only when The Australian called them on it — which, when you think about it, tells you all you need to know.”
Well, it tells me all I need to know: Crikey has a post-moderated commenting system that seems to work, in that they actively remove offensive comments in response to complaints. Job well done.
*Read the rest of the post here