Report to Readers: No comments, please
For the first time in at least a year, the Monitor today removed all the reader comments attached to a particular news story on concordmonitor.com and shut off the commenting feature for that story. It’s an option we use only rarely, and I want to explain the situation.
On this morning’s front page, we published a story about an alleged assault by a woman who coaches sports at Concord High School and was part of a high-profile stalking case in 2007 that involved her relationship with a teacher while she was a student there.
We knew the story would generate interest and, indeed, on the website it quickly became the most-read story. Trouble is, most of the comments posted by readers were problematic. Some were from readers who defended the suspect; some were from readers who were harshly critical. But many were inappropriate for one reason or another.
One of the first discussions we had before Tricia L. Nadolny wrote today’s story was whether to include some specific details available in the police report that might have identified the alleged victim. So far, at least, we have decided to keep those details out of our coverage. Some of the comments posted by readers early in the day, however, alluded to them. It felt inconsistent to allow commenters on our site to share information that our reporter had consciously omitted. Pulling them down meant pulling down comments written in reaction as well.
Other comments were simply gratuitously insulting toward the accused – ridiculing her physical appearance and questioning her mental stability.
At least one reader who wrote in to complain (anonymously) suggested there were politics afoot: “If this person was a Republican or, better yet, a Tea Party member, I believe the comment section would be the place to be for the liberal Monitor readers. A lesbian high school coach suspended for assault, who has a very weird past . . . no, no comments allowed.”
I hardly think we’re shielding this woman from public scrutiny; the story was published at the top of our front page and prominently on the website. But on the rare occasions when the comments get truly out of hand, shutting them off is our prerogative.
As a reminder, what we’re hoping for in the website commenting is a civil debate. This story is certainly fodder for public discussion. Unfortunately it got hijacked today by inappropriate comments.