Should News Outlets Edit Comments?

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(Credit: Australian Press Council, screenshot)

A Sydney Morning Herald reader complained to the Australian Press Council after he says the newspaper edited his March 21, 2011 comment.

The reader, Steve Foy, told the council that the newspaper “unfairly changed” his comment and edited out “the opening sentences,” according to the Australian Press Council’s adjudication.  The edited information accused the newspaper’s Paul Sheehan of writing a “puff piece” and having “forgotten the basics of journalism.”

According to the press council, the newspaper was unable to “verify what, if any, omissions or additions had occurred.”  Regardless, the newspaper’s comment moderator told the council that the comments previously described wouldn’t have been published because they are “an inappropriate personal attack.”

Because the council couldn’t officially find any record of the changes, the council wrote that it couldn’t rule on the case.  However, the council wrote that it finds the issue to be “of general significance” and that the council plans to look into the issue further during its standards investigation.

Read StinkyJournalism’s story on this issue here.  The press council will be reviewing and meeting with the public for the next three years to discuss the “active development and monitoring of standards.”

StinkyJournalism wrote to Online Journalism Review’s Robert Niles, who created a list of five guidelines for how news outlets should handle their online comments in March 2010, to ask what he suggests or advises in terms of media outlets editing comments. We haven’t heard back from Niles, but will update with any response.

One of his five guidelines, as described here in his March 2010 post, calls on news outlets to allow its readers to criticize both the news outlet and work.  He wrote:

“Most sites ban anyone who makes threats or attacks others on the site. As they should. But writing that you, or some other writer on the site did a lousy job isn’t an attack. It’s criticism, and you need to know the difference if you’re going to manage an online community responsibly. (Especially when those critics are correct).”

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