Summer 2011 | Online Exclusives

Online Comments: Dialogue or Diatribe?

Among the minority who dominate the online conversation is ‘the digital equivalent of the loudest drunk in the bar.’

By Alicia C. Shepard

It might be hard to believe, but one reason NPR was inspired to build its social media community is what it found in personal ads like this one—"Female golfer, loves NPR, travel and skydiving, is looking for like-minded man." With NPR squeezed into the middle of self-portraits, the network figured that if it created a digital public square, people would want to congregate there.

So three years ago NPR invited its 27 million listeners to gather at this virtual water cooler to share ideas, suggest stories, offer comments and criticisms, … ninety percent of us will read something online and move on. Nine percent—I’m in this group—occasionally take time to comment. That leaves roughly 1 percent who create and dominate the
online conversation…
and participate in civil dialogue. Joining NPR's digital community requires creating an account. Individuals need to log in each time they comment on a story, though using real names is not required. So far 500,000 people have signed up as members of the community.

Since the launch in 2008, those tasked with oversight of this digital community's dynamics at times have felt as though they are riding a bucking bronco in the rodeo ring. Those feelings hit hardest when contentious issues surface, and it can be challenging to maintain civil dialogue as conversations devolve into downright meanness.

So the hunt is continually on for workable—and affordable—solutions. The goal is dialogue, but it's pretty clear that the debate between dialogue and diatribe is still being waged. From the view I've had for the last three years as NPR's ombudsman I'd say diatribe is winning—hands down.EDITOR'S NOTE
Shepard's term as ombudsman ended on May 31, 2011.
My perspective is shaped by the reality that my role—taking positions on controversial issues that arise at NPR—puts me in the position of receiving many more negative comments than the NPR community as a whole.

"The discussions on are for the most part thoughtful and lively," said Mark Stencel, NPR managing editor for digital. "And we know we can count on our audience for strong opinions. We're used to that. Our rules are hardly onerous—be polite, don't use obscenities. … If anything, as a public media organization we are inclined to be more open than what some other national news organizations might be comfortable allowing—and that is still the case."

When people wrote me messages that were thoughtful, engaging or provocative in a constructive way, I eagerly absorbed what they had to say. Yet the comments I received on the NPR Ombudsman blog usually weren't any of those things. Most people logged in to share with me—and the rest of the community—what a dimwit I am, that NPR should fire me, that my latest column is laughable, or that I am a first-class shill for NPR.

Here is what "Will Null (Will9999999)" wrote in March, a few days after my column appeared about NPR tightening its rules about commenting on stories:

Did I mention that you are a total jerk to state that! You took the Kings Copper, and now are going about kicking the body! Why am i not surprised by your unprofessional conduct.

I am starting a Lottery for Shepards Firing. I will start with Fire Date of March 15th. Others, please feel free to Post Shepards Firing Date. I will give $100 to the Winners Favorite Charity.

Want to see more? Click on comments on

If people were talking with me on the phone or in person or they'd written me a letter, our communication might have been more productive. Instead, with only a click needed to transform writer into sender, dozens of messages arrived in my digital mailbox each day. During especially challenging times, the number has reached into the thousands.

The 90-9-1 principle convinced me that many, not all, comment sections are an exercise in faux democracy. This theory goes that 90 percent of us will read something online and move on. Nine percent—I'm in this group—occasionally take time to comment. That leaves roughly 1 percent who dominate the online conversation, and among this smaller number is found the digital equivalent of the loudest drunk in the bar. Their messages are often rude and accusatory; they indicate little interest in joining a conversation, yet they succeed in scaring off those who might want to truly engage.

This has occasionally pushed away a news source. Once the family of a high-performing high school student who was in the country illegally wanted to stop cooperating on a story for "All Things Considered" because listeners responded so harshly on the story's online version. The producers ultimately convinced the family to stick with what was going to be an ongoing story, "Undocumented Teen's School, Work Options Limited."

"It was by no means easy though, and this experience ultimately had a real chilling effect on our ability to continue with them in the longer term," said freelance producer Elizabeth Meister. "I feel fairly confident that this incident ultimately led them to believe that sharing their experience was dangerous, and as a result it looks like we are having to abandon work on any follow-ups."

That was in December 2009, and since then NPR has stepped up its oversight. Today, for the most part, the stream of comments has become more civil and engaging.

Monitoring Comments

Prescreening comments works, but it is expensive, and not all vicious comments will always be taken down. So nearly three years after NPR started allowing commenting on stories, the network (like all news outlets) is still figuring out how best to handle abusive and disruptive commentary. Initially, NPR relied on a "Report Abuse" button—if it were clicked three times, then that comment was investigated.

With NPR getting about 3,000 comments a day, such investigations became unfeasible for staff to manage. Last October NPR hired a Canada-based company, ICUC Moderation Services, to handle the abuse queue for comments. But even this is not total premoderation. ICUC moderates comments by new users and those who have repeatedly broken the guidelines.

It's a tough job. Moderating comments is more art than science since there are a lot of gray area judgment calls within NPR's guidelines. Crossing those borderlines can lead to expulsion from the community. "Our goal is to encourage civil and engaging conversations," said Kate Myers, who oversees NPR's online community. "It only takes a few people for a discussion to turn bad. In my experience, people don't like to contribute to a site where the comments devolve into ugliness."

In March, NPR went a step further to refine the system. Now new members and repeat offenders are premoderated—a kind of guilty until proven innocent approach for those new to the site. It's an attempt to control the digital "trolls," yet they seem to be too clever by half. Take boulder dude, a longtime nemesis, who lets me know in frequent comments that he finds little redeeming about my columns or NPR in general. CORRECTION
The proper screen name is "boulder dude," not "Boulder Dude" as it is in the print edition.

When NPR monitors banned him, he set up a new account, first as boulder dude1, then boulder dude2, and so on. But under the new system, he can't be so crafty.

"And every time he creates a new account, he gets premoderated," noted Andy Carvin, NPR's social media guru. "It's a losing battle for him except if he behaves. Our system works because he doesn't have a free bully pulpit for him to use. Our community members get to talk in peace because of the new system."

Other debates revolve around the anonymity afforded those who comment. Would Boulder Dude be so cutting, ugly or mean-spirited if he had to use his real name? (I know it's a he; I've talked with him.) Andrew Alexander, the former ombudsman at The Washington Post, argued in favor of anonymity, even though the Post, like all news organizations, confronts these same kinds of messages that can border on hate speech. He believes anonymity encourages people to participate and share things online that they might be afraid to post if their real name was used.

I disagree.

We would have more honest, kinder, civil exchanges if people used their real names. One way to do this is to log in using Facebook, a place where nearly everyone wants to be known and where the ethos is that people are known as who they are in real life. Of course, this isn't always true. There are avatars on Facebook as well, and signing in on Facebook doesn't guarantee civility. Look at The Washington Post. But it's a start.

Encouraging a civil dialogue makes sense, so if I could, I'd get rid of anonymity when it comes to participating in the digital town common. I think people behave more civilly toward one another when their true identity is known.

Alicia C. Shepard just ended her three-year term as NPR ombudsman. She welcomes suggestions of workable solutions for commenting. Share them with her at

43 Comments on Online Comments: Dialogue or Diatribe?
Greg says:
May 14, 2012 at 9:31pm
its really no way to control things of this nature. when you give people this type of freedom you see what happens. real identity would possibly help but then again people would still do it.
Penny Stocks says:
April 25, 2012 at 1:55pm
Nice article! I love NPR!
Grump Demo says:
December 22, 2011 at 9:25am
Interesting that my comments, which point by point examples of Ms. Shepard contradicting herself and were posted on line for several days, have now been deleted.

Memory holes are wonderful, aren't they?
Jamie Sabang says:
September 18, 2011 at 12:24am
This dialogue or debate thing was really unexplainable. Really, because everyone of us has our own insights on this particular topic.
Nate Bowman says:
August 14, 2011 at 11:51am
If NPR were sincere about building a community on line, they would have available the top-recommended commenters so that the community could read what they wrote. I suspect Boulder Dude would be at the top or near the top of that list. My belief is that NPR sees that most of the well-regarded commenters point out the shortcomings of NPR, and so are best kept a secret. Except when they can be misrepresented and serves NPR's interests as Ms. Shepard did above.
Nate Bowman says:
June 27, 2011 at 5:28pm
It looks like Edward Schumacher-Matos, the new ombudsman at NPR shares Ms. Shepard's views on anonymity. "Another solution is to eliminate anonymous comments at the end of articles online, and turn the comment section into the civilized interchange among readers, identified by name, that it was originally supposed to be."
decora says:
June 25, 2011 at 10:32am
"apologist for power, corporations and the status quo. " There are many examples where NPR has disturbed the powerful. A perfect example are the Magnetar Capital stories. Another example is the expose on the way the VA was failing to treat PTSD in sodliers properly. Another example is when they were in China talking about substandard construction after the Earthquake a few years ago that killed a bunch of kids. Another example is the Jane Mayer interview done right after the Drake case collapsed. Another example is when Scott Simon (a favorite whipping boy for anti-NPR folks) mentions Zhao Lianhai and Ai WeiWei and Xiao Laobao all in the same story. Another example is NPR's reporting on the Mexican drug cartels and their infiltration of the mexican government. Another example is NPR's reporting on Communication Management Units, specifically the report they generated revealing a list of who was held in these units and why. etc etc etc.
Eric says:
June 25, 2011 at 5:26am
Roger Stone says: June 18, 2011 at 12:49pm Anonymity is vital in some parts of the world where authorities do not allow freedom of speech - look at countries like Syria. -------------------- Look at this country during the McCarthy Era!
bsjones says:
June 24, 2011 at 3:37pm
I was going to launch into a diatribe giving specific examples illustrating how Alicia Shepard and the ossified establishment that she represents are like "Mr. Jones" we hear about in Ballad of a Thin Man. Fortunately I ran across something on the intertubes by an edumacted man who explains it better than I ever could.
bsjones says:
June 24, 2011 at 4:48am
My sense from reading Shepard (I've been reading since the torture debacle) is that she is, was and probably always will be an apologist for power, corporations and the status quo. This current piece reaffirms my belief. My sense is that unmoderated, which essentially means an uncensored, two way communication is too much for those who have progressed into a position such as Shepard's. Sadly, I think Shepard is incapable of understanding the nature of the criticism that is being leveled against her personally, NPR specifically, and the media generally. Over the last 30 years American journalism has been the history of failure. It's sad that an Ombudsman who is charged with being a media watchdog and a representative of ordinary people's interests is unable to see this fundamental truth. Alicia Shepard will never understand what Finley Peter Dunne understood in his heart and bones, namely, that: “The job of the newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” More and more people ain't buyin what the likes of Shepard are sellin.
decora says:
June 23, 2011 at 10:13pm
im sorry but many of the comments here are blatantly incorrect. i have read thousands of comments on NPR, and there are a large number that are completely off topic, provide no evidence for their claims, insult the blogger or the reporter in question personally (instead of attacking ideas), do not even discuss the ideas being presented in the story, use demeaning, bigoted language, etc etc etc. some of these people are exhibiting behavior that, in another context, would be considered harassment if not stalking. posting personal insults on someones blog repeatedly over time is not 'insightful' or 'informative', it is mental illness. believe me, as a recovering troll , i know what its about. the white hot rage inside, the helplessness, the keyboard, beckoning you to lash out. is this what your legacy will be when you are old and looking back on life? "I called Alicia Shepard a shill... that was what i did with my life". i dont mean to lump all commenters together, but to act as though the NPR comments are somehow generally insightful and interesting is to basically tell a lie. there are many insightful and interesting comments, but there are also a lot of bigoted, pointless comments that serve no purpose other than to demean and degrade and dehumanize other people. thats the difference between Shepard and NPR and the commentariat - the commentariat never has to analyze their own behavior or acknowledge their own mistakes. they will almost never get 'fired from commenting' and if they do, they can just come back with a different nickname and/or IP address. the commentariat doesnt even seem to be able to entertain the idea that it makes any mistakes. i think a threaded discussion system, like slashdot, or dailykos, would help a lot. As it is, it is too difficult to tell who is replying to whom, or what they are saying. it is also hard to 'filter out' the stuff that is utterly pointless or vile.
Nate Bowman says:
June 23, 2011 at 7:19am
Deriding anonymity is easy someone who lives in a world where accountability and repercussions are foreign words.PARAGRAPH…In a Main Stream Media environment (which NPR proudly touts being part of) where pundits are not only not scrutinized for their past predictions and analyses, (think run-up to the war in Iraq and the marginalization of those who warned about the perils of sub-prime mortgages)but elevated to expert status…PARAGRAPH…In an environment where the media abet organizers of torture and embezzlers of billions to have no need to answer for their crimes…PARAGRAPH…It is natural to think that there are no repercussions for simply attaching one's name to their own comments. Those who have jobs on Main Street, however, have legitimate fears of losing their jobs and often have no savings left if they do…PARAGRAPH…QUOTE…If you leave a crude comment on Kurt Greenbaum’s St. Louis Dispatch articles, he’d like a word. With your boss…Greenbaum penned an admittedly (by the author) lame piece…Predictably, one commenter replied with one word- the p-word, used to describe a woman’s nether regions. So Greenbaum, the site’s director of social media, did what any logical person posting articles on the web would do- he tracked down the dude who commented and got him fired…UNQUOTE…PARAGRAPH……Whatever the solution to the problem is, it is NOT the stiffing of free speech that would result from mandating positive identification.
Nate Bowman says:
June 23, 2011 at 6:42am
REPOST DUE TO TYPO... Ms. Shepard's folksy framing of the narrative with personal ads and water coolers is again indicative of her implementation of her role as ombudsman NOT as the public's representative but as the disseminator of NPR talking points…PARAGRAPH…The public's radio station was at the time.aggressively pursuing digital media as a business model. How that business model would be developed is rumored to be the reason for the ousting in 2008 of Ken Stern, former CEO of NPR. He was followed by Vivian Schiller, former head of digital media…PARAGRAPH…To intimate that NPR uniquely and magnanimously gave listeners a gift (especially when the climate was for all news sources to provide comments sections for their audience) is disingenuous.
Don Pasqueda says:
June 22, 2011 at 10:42am
… ninety percent of us will read something online and move on. Nine percent—I’m in this group—occasionally take time to comment. That leaves roughly 1 percent who create and dominate the online conversation… 100% of me doubts made-up stats from so-called experts.
anon says:
June 20, 2011 at 4:06pm
Alicia falls into the same fallacy of so many other news organizations. A COMMENT SECTION DOES NOT MAKE A COMMUNITY. And moderating comments is trivial, if you leave it not to paid third parties, but to the readers. Moderate for spam. And that's about it. Many sites with far more traffic than NPR are able to have actual communities with not nearly the problems that Alicia whines about. NPRs real problem is they are detached from their readers. If NPR wants a quality community, NPR has not much more to do than to insist that its reporters spend 30 minutes per day engaged AND THAT MEANS COMMENTING in the comment sections of their articles. Alicia's ombudsmanship of NPR, was like most things at NPR, bland, corporate, self-satisfying, worthless.
Frumpy Demon says:
June 19, 2011 at 11:52am
I just want to underline what boulder dude said, June 16, 2011 at 1:03pm. In particular, his suggestions about (1) a comment system allowing nesting and quoting of comments, (2) encouraging npr reporters' interaction with the community and (3) a corrections button/addendum on its stories. That Ms. Shepard slurs BD as a "loudest drunk" just shows how far off the mark and, well, in npr vernacular, unprofessional she was as ombudsman. Let's hope the new guy gets a clue.
Roger Stone says:
June 18, 2011 at 12:49pm
Anonymity is vital in some parts of the world where authorities do not allow freedom of speech - look at countries like Syria. Even in democracies there may be cases where whistleblowers fear for their jobs if they identify themselves. So I would argue that anonymity should be allowed and that other systems should be introduced to moderate comments - like NPR are doing or maybe by giving more prominence to comments from those who allow their identity to be authenticated
Nate Bowman says:
June 17, 2011 at 8:35pm
boulder dude Once again you prove how cutting, ugly or mean-spirited you can be. : )
troll says:
June 17, 2011 at 6:28am
In moderating comments about this article, we are adhering to our policy (see below) so not every comment that has been submitted has been posted. Our goal is to provide insightful commentary for our readers. By screening comments before they are posted, we hope to create a space where readers exchange intelligent and informed perspectives. We value thoughtful comments that make their point quickly and politely. Comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive. We won't tolerate personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, or incoherence." then how come the comments that are posted on NPR in reference to this are not posted. WE know what was written and we know that you have ignored your own policy and shut down any discussion. get real with yourselves or suffer as Alicia did with delusions of competency
ed kriner says:
June 17, 2011 at 6:25am
If NPR was "authentic" then you would never hear from me, but . . . NPR is just another cog in the propaganda machine used by the dominant culture to impose its view on citizens. While practicing right-wing "journalism" (pro-war, pro security state, pro-capitalist, and mind-numbing arts and culture) on air, NPR tries to pretend that their listeners/financial supporters are supposedly more "liberal" than Fox News (to choose the obvious example). Listen for a day or two outside the confines of your car on the drive-in or out from your cubicle. Really listen to NPR with a critical ear and before 48 hours are up you will see that I may be a "leftist" but I certainly am roght about NPR.
Eric says:
June 16, 2011 at 3:40pm
If Senators, and Congressmen, our leaders cannot be civil towards each other, well isn't mudslinging nothing but "The American Way"? Get Republicans and Democrats to be nice to each other, and I think the mob will follow.
Eric says:
June 16, 2011 at 3:36pm
trollseeker says: June 16, 2011 at 10:29am Ok if that is the case then you will not have a problem with me asking why Alicia makes a personal attack on boulderdude ... One man's terrorist, is another mans hero. One man's ceiling is another man's floor. I suppose is the answer.
Eric says:
June 16, 2011 at 3:27pm
And too, there are such things as provocative statements, whch may seriously offend some, but not others.
boulder dude says:
June 16, 2011 at 1:03pm
First off a thank you to Jan Gardner for the correction(s). A response to the thesis posited by Alicia Shepard in favor of the removal of Anonymity: Point One - While I do expect paid reporters, editors and ombudsmen to post/publish their thoughts under their bylines, those of us not entrusted with such great responsibility do feel that our voices should be heard from time to time when those same reporters, editors, and ombudsmen become prone to bias’, laziness or misinformation. Also, since the time of the Federalist Papers, we in the US have had a long standing example of anonymous free political speech that could not be free if names were actually known. This point is even more important in the age of cyber-stalkers, cyber-bullies and employers that can demand access to your Facebook, Linkin or Twitter accounts. Someone with the name of John Smith can be sure that they will have a certain level of anonymity, but someone like myself that has a unique name that only one other person in the world has will never have that same level of anonymity. Point Two – As Ombudsman, Alicia, rarely if ever (outside of typos) responded to any comment in the comments section (follow the link she provided and read any post over the past several years), and as she stated in one of her posts, she only felt moved to respond to emails if a topic got over 50. Phone calls were better and I had the pleasure of talking to Lori Kaplan several times to discuss why my accounts had been banned (no concrete reason given). If NPR had a real comment system that allowed nesting and quoting of comments and if NPR encouraged its employees to actually interact with those in the community, then I am sure that for the most part, most of the “loudest drunk in the room” issues would be eliminated (ignoring your readers/listeners tends to bring out the worst in them). Also, since NPR and the Ombudsman only ever responded to the loudest drunk in the room (The Mark Fiore’s cartoon, the firing of Juan Williams, etc) those of us that are liberals soon learned what the rules of the game were and became just as loud to get any sort of attention to our concerns. Point Three – Corrections, how I would love for NPR to incorporate a corrections button on its stories, this would also eliminate most all of the “ranting” from those on the Left who have grown tired of the Truthiness that NPR has engaged in with its reporting. Finally – If one wishes to encourage civil dialog, then one MUST actually be in dialog with the listeners/readers of your product. If not, then do not be surprised if your comments descend in to nothing more than page after page of rant counter rant. Also, if the culture you encourage in your comments/community is that those who yell/scream the loudest or the most get their issues responded to, then that is the commenter’s/community you will have. Thank you.
Eric says:
June 16, 2011 at 11:03am
So if you want to believe what you think already, do not open your communications to alien ideas. Might as well listen to tape recordings you make yourself. I think.
Eric says:
June 16, 2011 at 11:01am
And if premoderating comments means I must wait before I know if my comment is acceptable or not, I might just give up, and never leave any comments, ever again.
Eric says:
June 16, 2011 at 10:59am
"In moderating comments about this article, we are adhering to our policy (see below) so not every comment that has been submitted has been posted." - now THAT! sounds like Fox News... as long as your thoughts agree with our thoughts, we will publish what you say. (makes us seem and feel correct all the time) Danger in that
Eric says:
June 16, 2011 at 10:56am
And what about people who post something that has a meaning that is not immediatly apparent to the moderator? Some things seem off topic, until you think again, and wam! It hits you in the face! Also, In brainstorming sessions, we call that piggy-backing, and it has the effect of approaching the topic from a different viewpoint, or line of reasoning. In general, our American sense of justice oposses censureship.
Eric says:
June 16, 2011 at 10:51am
It feels like one is talking to oneself....
Eric says:
June 16, 2011 at 10:48am
And the waiting time for something that must be premoderated (censured) prevents any back and forth debate.
Eric says:
June 16, 2011 at 10:46am
It goes right back to freedom of speech. Alicia C. Shepard & Andrew Alexander, the former ombudsman at The Washington Post are not the only ones who debate this type issue. So Does SCOTUS. One thing too, that is truly irksom, is the rude loudmouth who turns out to be RIGHT! or who has an excelent point to make. You don'l like the person, you want hem to dry-up and blow away, but SEH is right! DARN!
trollseeker says:
June 16, 2011 at 10:29am
Ok if that is the case then you will not have a problem with me asking why Alicia makes a personal attack on boulderdude as is most of her piece here. I have followed very closely and have seen the number of times Alicia has reduced the reporting to some tired old tea party mantra repeating. I It the way the NPR heads want it but it was Alicia's job to defend the truth. Truth. There is a word that Sanspete used to describe the erroneous report of Mrs Sherrad comments. When for two or three days NPR headlines repeated the edited and erroneous comment. And Alicia Ignored it. Let Sans pete say that the lie that was repeated was the" FACTS as we knew them" lol They banned the person that said that it could not be a fact if it was a lie. Please do not ask those that have actually bothered to follow the daily goings on there to try to keep it short. you allow Alicia sheppard to defend herself when for two years she has defended legitimate complain by banning people. But most interestingly not banning the right wing hate spouting racists. Of course I will have to post this elsewhere because I doubt it will be considered inoffensive enough.
Jan Gardner, Assistant Editor, Nieman Reports says:
June 16, 2011 at 9:24am
In moderating comments about this article, we are adhering to our policy (see below) so not every comment that has been submitted has been posted. Our goal is to provide insightful commentary for our readers. By screening comments before they are posted, we hope to create a space where readers exchange intelligent and informed perspectives. We value thoughtful comments that make their point quickly and politely. Comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive. We won't tolerate personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, or incoherence.
Nate Bowman says:
June 16, 2011 at 8:56am
Well said Eric. In a culture where Professional Offendees incite their legions to be angry with the latest pet peeve (and whose effect on the "loudest drunk at the bar" crowd is conspicuously absent from Ms. Shepard's discussion), lack of anonymity is dangerous. Have we learned nothing from the Gabrielle Giffords shooting? By the way, why are paragraph breaks not allowed?
Eric says:
June 16, 2011 at 8:12am
P.S. To me it's like the same reason we have secret balots at the voting booth.
Eric says:
June 16, 2011 at 8:03am
on anonymity: Suppose one disagrees with popular opinion. That person invites attacks, whether he phrased his opinion politely, or not! If one is a little paranoid about the direction the country is going politically, he may fear the day, when politicians, bent on vengence, would find hes name, Look hem up, and retaliate in some way... Such a scenario has been played out in countries such as Germany, Russia, and China. It could never happen here? I am in favor of anonymity!
Nate Bowman says:
June 16, 2011 at 7:05am
Repost, with addendum in paragraph 3 (I'm not sure what happened to my paragraph breaks on the last one): I'm not sure why Ms. Shepard, citing her three years as NPR ombudsman, focuses on the "loudest drunk in the bar". As (purportedly) the public's representative to NPR, she (rather) disseminates NPR's view of the world while misrepresenting and attacking those she is supposed to represent. (Especially since she is no longer the ombudsman, fact conspicuously absent from her narrative [is it even ethical for her to still use the NPR ombudsman logo?]) Though she claims "When people wrote me messages that were thoughtful, engaging or provocative in a constructive way, I eagerly absorbed what they had to say.", a scanning of the comments on any of Ms. Shepard's posts will quickly reveal that she never engaged in any meaningful dialogue with any commenter, save the occasional grammatical or equally inconsequential issue. Please, everyone, click on the link Ms. Shepard provided and see for yourselves. I guess when one does not engage commenters in dialogue, it's easy to chastise their comments as diatribe (not that there aren't some who are abusive; it's the characterization I object to). And, I agree with anonymous's comment about boulder dude's comments. I often learn from from his (and other commenters') insight, facts, research and links than the NPR story itself. Rather than appreciate how many commenters actually augment what NPR does, Ms. Shepard chooses to focus on the "loudest drunk in the bar." Also, as far as I know, Ms. Shepard and her staff never responded to boulder dude's queries about WHY he was banned. How are commenters supposed to modify their behavior if they are not told the rationale for being considered transgressors? Ms. Shepard says : "(I know it's a he [boulder dude]; I've talked with him)" boulder dude says: "we have never spoken, other than an email or two, all phone calls were with one of your assistants" This is a typical complaint I have with Ms. Shepard. Why say you have spoken with him when you haven't? What is one left to think when an ombudsman blithely lies in this way? And, NO, your assistants' talking with him does NOT allow you to say that you spoke with him. Some suggestions for improving the commenting experience: 1. Comments should appear in the order they were posted.2. Comments should have permalinks for easy linking. 3. Links to all pages of comments should appear on each page. NPR comments appear most-recent-first, have no permalinks and only have links to the next and previous pages, accumulating to 10 pages and then starting again. This is cumbersome if one wants to follow a discussion in time order or if one wants to go to a specific page of many or wants to link to a specific comment. 4. The banning of a commenter does not mean that all of their previous comments should be deleted. Up until the time they were banned, the commenter's work was unoffensive. To delete all of their comments is harsh, punitive and takes valuable information away from the community.
Lynn S says:
June 15, 2011 at 2:58pm
As another user, I'm puzzled by Andy Carvin's claim that "every time [boulder dude] creates a new account, he gets premoderated." The premoderation policy has only been in place since March, and boulder dude hasn't created any new accounts since then; he's had the same account for the last year or so, and during this time, his comments haven't been judged to be sufficiently problematic for NPR to close the account. Why on earth would you misrepresent this? I see no reason to think that people are more civil when using their actual names, and personally, I refuse to create a Facebook account, as their registration process involves providing information that I don't care to disclose. My anonymity doesn't make me less civil; I try to be civil because I value it, and my guess is that those people who aren't civil wouldn't be any more civil even if their full name were included. Just a guess, though; that's hard to know w/out research (but if you search the social science research literature, you may well find some actual research about this).
big!pink!fuzzy!bunny! says:
June 15, 2011 at 1:51pm
Continuing the limp "loudest drunk in the bar" analogy: Well, ya don't blithely play Barry Manilow for an AC/DC crowd. That'd be (ahem) tort- oops, I mean "enhanced interrogation tactics."
anonymous commenter says:
June 15, 2011 at 1:19pm
I just went onto and reviewed some of Boulder Dude's comments, at least as his current incarnation (BeeDeeFour) which he has apparently lived as for over a year. I found in general that while he certainly does have strong opinions, he also seems to be thoughtful, lively, passionate, funny, empathetic, and astute. Aren't these qualities that NPR would want in their listening and online community? Check it out for yourself if you don't want to take an anonymous commenter's word for it:
boulder dude says:
June 15, 2011 at 12:43pm
“longtime Nemesis”, I am honored Alicia. First off, corrections: It is “boulder dude” not “Boulder Dude”. Always has been since 02/10/09. From BeeDeeTwo, BeeDeeThree, Peace Keeper and to the current BeeDeeFour. I post this since I do not want you sending haters after innocent commenter’s I do not know. Second we have never spoken, other than an email or two, all phone calls were with one of your assistants. Lastly, I look forward to seeing what seeing what Schumacher-Matos does in his stint as NPR Ombudsman. P.S. Kate Myers is good people, always helpful as is Andy Carvin, though I am a bit hurt by his comments here.
Jann Alexander says:
June 14, 2011 at 8:25pm
Ranters are relentless.
brendan stallard says:
June 14, 2011 at 7:06pm
"I think people behave more civilly toward one another when their true identity is known." Alicia, Absolutely. State the rules firmly at the start, and then act firmly, and ruthlessly when they are broken. You will attract more than you will lose. The folks who just don't want to get involved in the argy-bargy will join. It is the exact equivalent of banning smoking in pubs and restaurants. All the barkeeps figured they'd lose custom. Just the opposite happened when people found they could visit a pub/restaurant and their clothes didn't reek. brendan stallard (real name)
Submit a Comment
Enter the words above: * Enter the numbers you hear: *
Switch to audio Switch to image
Thank you for your comment. It will be published after it is approved by an editor. Read our comments policy »