As with many things on The Local, with comments we have to hew to several guiding principles, the first being New York Times standards, the second being web best practices. In this case they largely overlap.
Here is the official New York Time Comment Policy.
We follow this very closely — every comment is moderated and we evaluate based a variety of objective and more subjective measures, including language use, general tone and how productive the comment is to the conversation at hand. We DO NOT modify comments in any way. To do so makes us more legally responsible for them, so it’s all or nothing.
The bottom line for NYT policy is that comments should move the conversation forward and that is definitely a best practice to keep in mind at all times. On a non-Times blog tho, loosening the restrictions on non-name-calling obscenities could be considered. Also, one place where The Local diverges is in cheerleader-type comments. On The Times, if 100 commenters say “Aw, the CUTEST” to a post about kittens, only the first such comment will be approved — the following comments are not moving the conversation forward. On The Local, we will post every single comment that says “congrats!” to a post about a local student who won a scholarship. It’s a community site and well wishing builds community.
We have four basic types of commenters on the blog: happy, upbeat folks who say nice things when they see their neighbors on the Local; super neighbors who like share information and ask questions about what’s going on in the neighborhood (lots of overlap in the first two categories); old school grumpers who read the Local but sort of hate us, and thus point out every mistake no matter how small; total trolls who hang around to advance their personal agendas which are usually hateful in some way, shape or form. The trolls are actually easier to deal with than the grumpers.
We don’t publish obscenities, including abbreviations like “wtf” and workarounds like “sh*t.” We will, depending on the situation allow the word “ass” to be used (partially because of Obama’s “whose ass to kick” comment about the BP oil spill). Suck is totally fine, unless of course, used lewdly.
If someone submits a comment that is overall a good comment, but has an unprintable word in it, feel free to email them and ask them to resubmit. Example:
wish they could figure out a way to make one out of the excess dog sh*t littering the park
Tone and Content
We don’t print personal attacks. One commenter can directly contradict another, for example, “You are wrong, Ft. Greene Park closes at dusk, not at 9pm.” But not, “You are wrong because you’re a jerk and an idiot” or “You’re wrong, Ft. Greene Park closes at dusk, you idiot.” It gets more tricky though, when the question at hand is race, class and gender identity based. We have several commenters who like to make it clear that they are not a fan of gay people, white people, brown people, poor people, rich people and, well, us. If they are say, criticizing a policy like gay marriage or some aspect of public housing, we will continue to approve the comments for as long as they advance the conversation in some way. We will not approve anything that is overtly abusive, racist, homophobic or just plain mean, for the sole sake of being that way.
Take for example this approved comment:
The trend in Fort Greene and surrounding environs is to build and offer to the renting or buying public either studio or one bedroom apartments is now well pronounced. The kinds of folks eyeing Fort Greene are drawn from those non-traditional family structures(read: “alternative lifestyles”) that are biologically incapable of producing children. Up in Williamsburg developers are throwing up homes and multi-bedroom apartments, targeting the traditional family of one man and one woman who are biologically able to make children and thus this family arrangement needs extra bedrooms for the children to reside.
About a month ago the NY Times carried an article that compared the housing stock and interests in Fort Greene versus Williamsburg. It stated that the local Wmburg City Councilman (Steve Levin) refuses to sanction any new housing that did not contain 2, 3 or 4 bedroom apts. in deference to the large families that are widespread in that area. In contrast, Fort Greene Councilwoman (Tish James) who takes orders from & voted for Council Speaker Christine Quinn, is allowing the Fort Greene community to be saturated with the studio/one bedroom housing stock which clearly draws a different clientel.
He’s clearly homophobic. BUT the question of why certain types of housing stock get built in particular neighborhoods is an interesting one. The conversation value outweighs the implied nastiness.
Some commenters have tiresome personal agendas. If someone writes the same comment every week about how people in the crime log seem to have overvalued their phones/purses/jewelry we stop approving them because it’s just unnecessary and boring. Some will keep submitting the same comment over and over again. Also not allowed.
You’ll know it when you see it. Like this comment about a woman who had been killed in an SUV-versus-Vespa accident:
Sorry for the loss. She was a young and attractive young woman.
Spam is sneaky. if you read a comment that is advertising Viagra, obviously that’s spam. But what about one that says, “Hi I’m new here, what a great blog!” That’s also spam. One dead giveaway is when a strange, seemingly unrelated comment shows up on an older post. Spam.