This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
KSL.com and DeseretNews.com, the Mormon Church-owned broadcast and newspaper websites, are grappling with one of the thorniest problems facing online news organizations keeping public comment boards polite.
"Every news organization that allows comments is facing the same issue to some degree," said Damon Kiesow, of the Poynter Institute, a journalism school and think tank based in St. Petersburg, Fla. "It's a challenge to figure out how to create the balance that allows a community to develop but still maintains civil discourse and productive conversation."
Saying it was looking for "alternative community forums," KSL announced Thursday that comment boards had been suspended until managers devised a way to "provide more civil community discourse."
"We believe that public forums come with responsibility, both on the part of the media company and the users," according to the KSL announcement. "During the past year KSL.com has invested significant resources toward improving the level of dialogue on our comment boards. Unfortunately a small but active minority of our users repeatedly abuse this privilege by posting comments that are inflammatory and disrespectful of others."
DeseretNews.com published a letter Thursday to its readers announcing that changes to comment boards would be rolled to enhance civility. Comments will no longer be published at the bottom of stories. Forums will be provided, but commenters will have to register a name and location, will be encouraged to use "a form of their real names" in posts and will be limited to two comments per story. In addition, all posts will be moderated for civility, the letter says.
Deseret News chief executive Clark Gilbert and KSL executives did not return calls during business hours. On KSL news Thursday night, anchor Bruce Lindsay described the shutdown as a "pause."
Kiesow says several organizations have attempted registration controls similar to those at the Deseret News, though he's never encountered a limit on comments before.
"You're seeing a backlash against the wide-open, anonymous Wild West approach," he said. "There is something to be said for the fact that some of the commentary can keep people away. With some people, there's an attitude of 'I don't want to play in the sewer.' "
An online poll at KSL.com Thursday asked, "What word best describes your feelings about ksl.com shutting down its comment boards?" The results Thursday evening were running mostly positive, with 14 percent "relieved," 25 percent "pleased," and 20 percent "overjoyed."
Tim Fitzpatrick, deputy editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, said sltrib.com isn't planning any changes in the way it manages its comment boards, though he acknowledged that keeping them civil and polite is a challenge for news organizations.
"We are all trying to figure it out," Fitzpatrick said. "The Tribune has no plans to shut down our comments. We do monitor but we do not pre-screen. We rely on the community to monitor comments which they do. We do occasionally get an inappropriate comment and we remove it quickly.
"We would rather err on the side of free flow of conversation," Fitzpatrick said. "We don't believe that comes at the cost of civility."