Nasty reader comments: two approaches

2 Jan

I think it’s fair to say a lot of journalists struggle with the value of allowing anonymous* comments on news stories. Recently, two newspaper websites took two different kind of actions in an attempt to clean things up.

At the end of November, Cleveland.com explained why it was no longer allowing comments on Tamir Rice stories (except in its opinion section).

I agree with author Chris Quinn’s reasoning for doing so: The sheer volume of hateful comments was just too much to keep up with. In these days of limited newsroom resources, moderating a large volume of comments just doesn’t make the cut. At The Seattle Times, we don’t allow comments on some stories simply because they know they will be a pain to moderate. There are other reasons why we pre-close threads, such as wanting to protect vulnerable story subjects.

Here’s one thing I try to think through when deciding whether a particular story should have open commenting: What is the desired outcome of the commenting? In most cases this is an easy question to answer. You want people to share their thoughts and continue the conversation about the topic of the story in a civilized way. Great example of this: the comments on The Times’ recent story on Warren Buffett’s mobile-home empire.

For some stories though, it’s hard to visualize a constructive outcome of reader discussion. Example: Given the heightened tensions at the moment, is there really a possibility of reasonable discussion and education about the plight of Somali immigrants in Seattle? We thought not.

But you can go too far with this policing. And I think the Toronto Star has gone too far by shutting comments down completely across its website.

They say they want to capture the conversations about their stories that are happening on social media. Well I hate to break it to them, but the typical reader of a newspaper website is an older person who seven times out of 10 probably is not even active on social media. And what about the sports commenters? They love to share instant reaction on your site about games in progress, and you’re shutting them out? It’s crazy. And it’s a lazy cop out.

There’s at least one blogger out there who completely agrees with me on this.

* BTW, there may be some of you who think media sites should have commenters use their real names. The fact is, this is problematic for three reasons: 1) No one has staff-time availability for verification; 2) It leaves out the protections for whistle-blowers; and 3) Using something like Facebook for commenting doesn’t actually stop the hateful speech. I know — I tried it once.

 

Days 10 & 11 in Europe: From Mostar to Split, Croatia

12 Oct A view of the south Palace wall from the seaside promenade.

Wow. I somehow saved the best part of this trip for last. Scroll down to the pictures and you’ll see what I mean.

It wasn’t easy getting here to Split though. They printed the wrong departure time on my bus ticket, so I missed the bus by 10 minutes and got the wonderful reward of sitting four hours in a depressing bus station as hard rain poured down. The next bus got me into Split by 4 p.m., and the rain was still on again, off again.

I found my accommodation and met my wonderful host, Melina. If anyone reading this ever goes to Split, she’s the one for you. For most of the remainder of Sunday, all I did was eat and try to dry off. My shoes were completely water-logged.

But then this morning dawned gloriously. Wow, again. Split is amazing. At the city’s heart is a history-filled old quarter that faces the promenade in front of the Adriatic.

I took a guided walking tour and learned about the key structure at the center: the amazingly preserved remains of the palace of the Roman emperor Dioclesian. Amazing to walk through the gates of the palace walls, knowing that they were built in the year 305, 1,700 years ago.

Among the many amazing achitectural details: there are red granite columns brought over from Egypt, along with several 8-foot-long sphinxes.

The city inside the palace walls is a strange mix of the original Roman with medieval and renaisance architecture after that. Exploring the narrow passage ways might bring you to a Venetian merchant’s house, a guardhouse for Roman soldiers, or a temple to the god Jupiter.

With the awesome weather this day — sunny and low 70’s — I went a little crazy with the camera. Please click to expand them. What a photogenic place.

And early tomorrow morning I begin the journey home to Seattle. Thanks for reading.

A view of the south Palace wall from the seaside promenade.

A view of the south Palace wall from the seaside promenade.

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A clock tower at the western gate of the palace.

A clock tower at the western gate of the palace.

Palace passageway.

I just liked the colors.

The colorful farmers' market outside the eastern palace gate.

The colorful farmers’ market outside the eastern palace gate.

Market action.

Market action.

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Looking up at the detail in the Roman columns at the center of the palace.

Looking up at the detail in the Roman columns at the center of the palace.

The bell tower, which dates to the 1500's. I climbed to the top for an amazing view.

The bell tower, which dates to the 1500’s. I climbed to the top for an amazing view.

Lucy, the guide for our walking tour, is a Split native. If you look up above where she's pointing, you can see a Roman cross on one of the sarcophagi.

Lucy, the guide for our walking tour, is a Split native. If you look up above where she’s pointing, you can see a Roman cross on one of the sarcophagi.

After the tour came lunch, featuring local seafood.

After the tour came lunch, featuring local seafood.

I walked to a city park for this amazing view.  The palace area would be pretty much at the center of this.

I walked to a city park for this amazing view. The palace area would be pretty much at the center of this.

Ferries come in from the islands.

Ferries come in from the islands.

View from the belltower.

View from the belltower.

View from the belltower with the south palace wall in the center.

View from the belltower with the south palace wall in the center.

My view while enjoying a drink in the promenade, watching the tourists and Splitizens go by.

My view while enjoying a drink in the promenade, watching the tourists and Splitizens go by.

Day 9 in Europe: Fighting the rain in Mostar, Bosnia

10 Oct The Stari Most, or old bridge.

Mostar was the site of a pretty nasty war 22 years ago. What started as a war for imdependence from Yugoslavia turned into a nasty ethnic war between Bosniaks (Muslim Serbs) and Croatians (Catholics). Never mind that diverse populations had been living here peacefully for hundreds of years.

It’s a shame because the setting is so beautiful. A fast-flowing green river flows through the middle, and sets the stage for an amazing bridge that both literally and metaphorically spans the two sides. The 400-year-old bridge was destroyed in the war and then rebuilt in 2004.

For an idea of how things are going since then, a photo of a Serbian boy kissing a Croatian girl in a parade in Mostar went viral in 2013. The kiss came *after* an old woman asked how she could possibly march next to a Serb. So maybe there’s hope for the future.

I tried to do some exploring, but the rain, which flooded the streets at times, made it tough.

The Stari Most, or old bridge.

The Stari Most, or old bridge.

View from atop the old bridge.

View from atop the old bridge.

A view from atop the famous bridge.

A view from atop the famous bridge.

Part of old town Mostar.

Part of old town Mostar.

Graves in a Muslim cemetery. I saw one later where many of the dates of death were 1993, the peak of the civil war.

Graves in a Muslim cemetery. I saw one later where many of the dates of death were 1993, the peak of the civil war.

Lunch was the area specialty. It starts with a 'C.' Very filling.

Lunch was the area specialty. It starts with a ‘C.’ Very filling.

Every few blocks you'd see bombed out buildings like this, never leveled or repaired after the war.

Every few blocks you’d see bombed out buildings like this, never leveled or repaired after the war.

When the rain really came down. I was soaked.

When the rain really came down. I was soaked.

Day 8 in Europe: Day of transit from Krakow to Mostar, via Vienna and Dubrovnik

9 Oct image

Today was a crazy day of travel logistics that only an obsessed travel planner like me can enjoy. It went like this:
– Train from central Krakow to airport.
– Flight from Krakow to Vienna, Austria.
– For 4-hour layover in Vienna, hopped train to city center and spent an hour and half walking past things like the Opera House and Parliament.
– Caught flight to Dubrovnik, Croatia.
– Had planned on spending an hour walking along the walls of this amazing Old Town, but the bus from airport to Old Town hit bad traffic. I was forced to spend just the half hour I could spare walking inside the walled city.
– Caught taxi to Dubrovnik bus station.
– Took 3-hour bus ride into Bosnia, to Mostar.
– Walked 10 minutes to check into my pensione.

Door to door took 15 hours. I felt like I was on that “Amazing Race” show.

Vienna was gray above and all around and I’m not sure I’d ever want to spend much more time there. The Dubrovnik Old Town is really special. I definitely would like to spend more time there some day.

Mostar … I’m not sure. Seems pretty dull. But I only saw it at night. I just hope the predicted rain for tomorrow holds off. Somehow I made it through 8 days in Europe in October without seeing a drop of rain. Gotta keep that streak alive for three more days.

Pics of Dubrovnik below. They really don’t do the place justice. The water around the city was clear and an amazing shade of blue.

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Day 7 in Europe: Visiting Auschwitz & Birkenau concentration camps

8 Oct The tracks that brought hundres of thousands of mostly Hungarian Jews into Birkenau.
Women and children selected for death, walking unknowingly toward gas chambers, upon arriving at Birkenau.

Women and children selected for death, walking unknowingly toward gas chambers, upon arriving at Birkenau.

This is going to be a very short post, with sparse descriptions with the photos. What more can you say about a place where more than 1 million people were killed.

The fact that such evil ever existed just does not seem possible. But it did happen. And could happen again.

It says over the entrance: “Work will set you free.”

Our giude is on the left. It takes something, something I can't imagine, to describe such horror to visitors day in and day out.

Our giude is on the left. It takes something, something I can’t imagine, to describe such horror to visitors day in and day out.

The double electrified fence outside the camp.

The double electrified fence outside the camp.

The first gas chamber and crematorium. Yes we went inside it.

The first gas chamber and crematorium. Yes we went inside it.

The Birkenau camp housed 90,000 people at a time.

The Birkenau camp housed 90,000 people at a time.

The tracks that brought hundres of thousands of mostly Hungarian Jews into Birkenau.

The tracks that brought hundres of thousands of mostly Hungarian Jews into Birkenau.

No words.

No words.

Days 5 & 6 in Europe: Poland’s royal capital, Krakow

7 Oct A couple poses in market square for their wedding photographer.

Got up early Tuesday morning and flew from Berlin to Krakow via Stuttgart. Was checked into my apartment inside the city’s Old Town by 1:30 p.m.

Krakow reminds me a bit of San Sebastian or even Venice without canals — narrow pedestrian-only streets that come alive at night with people out for a stroll, or to visit a bar or restaurant. All roads lead to the massive city square, the largest in Europe.

My first afternoon I actually avoided the square and headed instead for an area to the east, the Kazimierz neighborhood. This area was a bustling Jewish quarter of the city before World War II. During the war, there were a lucky few hundred who were saved from the Nazis by Oskar Schindler, whose factory was nearby.

Today Kazimierz has been reborn as a trendy place to live and play, with a thriving bar and hotel district. I enjoyed a couple of microbrews on the sidewalk outside the Mostowa Art Cafe. For my fifth straight day in Europe, it was sunny again and in the upper 60s.

For dinner I ate a very traditional Polish meal. See picture and description below.

On Wednesday, I slept in a bit late because my string of warm weather was clearly over. There was a biting wind and it probably struggled to hit 55. Oh well, it was a great run.

I spent the early part of the afternoon touring Warwel Castle, essentially the royal palace for Poland’s kings. The state rooms, royal treasury and armoury were fascinating.

Afterwards, I took a two-hour walking tour of the old town. Christian, our Polish guide, chided us for thinking it was cold. Cold is February. He spent a lot of time trying to explain Poland’s rather complicated history as a country. The Poles have never really been very good at holding onto what is theirs.

On Thursday: Visiting Auschwitz.

Enjoy the pictures, and click on them for larger versions.

An dilapidated cemetery near the old Jewish quarter.

A dilapidated cemetery near the old Jewish quarter.

Food trucks in Krakow's Jewish quarter provide comfy chairs too.

Food trucks in Krakow’s Jewish quarter provide comfy chairs too.

The bartender said this IPA was the best in Poland. It was pretty good, especially for only 3 bucks.

The bartender said this IPA was the best in Poland. It was pretty good, especially for only 3 bucks.

The sidewalk scene outside the Mostowa cafe.

The sidewalk scene outside the Mostowa cafe.

The second beer at Mostowa, a pilsner from Doctor Brew. Craft brewing is going gangbusters in Poland.

The second beer at Mostowa, a pilsner from Doctor Brew. Craft brewing is going gangbusters in Poland.

Busy artery in the Old Town.

Busy artery in the Old Town.

Yummy dinner for first night in Krakow: potato pancakes covered in pork stew.

Yummy dinner for first night in Krakow: potato pancakes covered in pork stew.

The market square at the center of Krakow's Old Town.

The market square at the center of Krakow’s Old Town.

There was a museum about John Paul II, whom the Poles revere, naturally. He's still the only pope I ever saw in person, in 1980 in Anchorage.

There was a museum about John Paul II, whom the Poles revere, naturally. He’s still the only pope I ever saw in person, in 1980 in Anchorage.

Inside the royal castle.

Inside the royal castle.

Tour groups huddled in masses before heading inside the castle.

Tour groups huddled in masses before heading inside the castle.

View looking out over the Old Town from inside the castle.

View looking out over the Old Town from inside the castle.

Our walking-tour guide gives us the details on Poland's 1,100-year-old history.

Our walking-tour guide gives us the details on Poland’s 1,100-year-old history.

A couple poses in market square for their wedding photographer.

A couple poses in market square for their wedding photographer.

Day 4 in Europe: A full day of Berlin

5 Oct For the equivalent of $5 U.S., you get currywurst, fries and a beer.

Today was all about the walking — and I’d say this is a very walkable city. And whatever you can’t walk to is super easy to get to by subway or tram.

I started off exploring Prenzlaur Berg, then the area around Alexanderplatz.

I spent a good couple of hours in the German History Museum. It was awesome. How often do you get to see Napolean’s hat that he left behind at Waterloo?

Next up was Kruezburg, an area that is now dominated by Turks. So I had Turkish food for lunch. Yum.

And by the way, my weather luck has been great — fourth day in Germany, fourth sunny and warm-for-October day.

By late afternoon, I had made my way to the “Topography of Terror” exhibit. This is a place where one of the remaining pieces of the Berlin Wall parallels the remaining basement walls of Hitler’s S.S. staff offices and torture rooms. Lots of interesting displays about the history of the Nazis and then the Communists.

I then wandered the area in and around Potzdamerplatz, which is really not much more than a giant shopping center. Finally, as night fell, I was back at the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag, Germany’s house of parliment.

When I got back to Rosenthalerplatz to call it a day, I hit up the corner curry joint for Berlin’s most famous snack – currywurst. I don’t think my stomach will ever recover.

A few pix below. Click to enlarge. And thanks for reading. Off to Poland tomorrow morning.

The Reichstag.

The Reichstag.

For the equivalent of $5 U.S., you get currywurst, fries and a beer.

For the equivalent of $5 U.S., you get currywurst, fries and a beer.

Breakfast was this incredible part-macaroon, part ham-and-cheese breakfast sandwich at a corner bakery. And fresh-squeezed orange juice.

Breakfast was this incredible part-macaroon, part ham-and-cheese breakfast sandwich at a corner bakery. And fresh-squeezed orange juice.

Lunch at the Turkish place in Kruezberg. I cannot remember what this was called. I enjoyed it though.

Lunch at the Turkish place in Kruezberg. I cannot remember what this was called. I enjoyed it though.

Day 3 in Europe: Arrival in Berlin

4 Oct Folks sit on the front of one of the historic buildings from the period of Frederic the Great.

It was a four-hour train ride from Bamberg up to Berlin. And upon arrival at the main train station, it was only a 10-minute tram ride to my AirBnB accommodation in the Mitte area, right in the center of Berlin (and once part of East Berlin).

Once again the weather gods are with me — mostly sunny and upper 60s.

After checking in and getting keys from Klaus, I made for the meetup location for a four-hour walking tour I had booked in advance. We started near Berlin’s Museum Island, and in the next several hours I learned a lot about the city’s history. You won’t see very many pix of these though, because I’m not the kind of traveler who takes pictures of historic buildings, unless they are really, really pretty.

But we saw lots: Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie, a remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall, the spot where Hitler’s bunker was, etc., etc. my feet were killing me at the end. But it was a cool way to get orientated in the city.

Afterward, back at the apartment, I met my host’s colleague. He’s in the software biz and is working on a startup project. Apparently Berlin has a busy Internet culture. I talked a lot about that with Wolfgang, and he gave me a lot of great restaurant advice.

He ended up taking me to one of his favorite hangouts, a Vietnamese place that you wouldn’t know was even there when looking from the street. It had a great design and the food was good.

I’m telling you, this place is full of the young and pretty. There’s a bar a couple of doors down from where I’m staying that would make Greenwich Village look uncool.

Tomorrow I have a full day to see more of the city and enjoy its fabulous food.

Here are the pix, and don’t forget that you can click on them to make them larger.

Our tour guide gives us Berlin history lesson as we stand over the river Spree.

Our tour guide gives us Berlin history lesson as we stand over the river Spree.

Folks sit on the front of one of the historic buildings from the period of Frederic the Great.

Folks sit on the front of one of the historic buildings from the period of Frederic the Great.

The juxtaposition of the protestant Cathedral and the East German TV tower is interesting.

The juxtaposition of the protestant Cathedral and the East German TV tower is interesting.

The Holocaust memorial was interesting, built recently not far from the Brandenburg Gate.

The Holocaust memorial was interesting, built recently not far from the Brandenburg Gate.

There was a huge soccer match going on between Germany's top two teams. It was standing room inside and outside of every sports bar.

There was a huge soccer match going on between Germany’s top two teams. It was standing room inside and outside of every sports bar.

Sorry it's such a dark pic, but this was dinner at the Vietnamese restaurant. The fried wontons were great.

Sorry it’s such a dark pic, but this was dinner at the Vietnamese restaurant. The fried wontons were great.

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