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Back in the day, Phil Donahue was the king of day-time talk shows. If I remember right his show, and competing shows, were topical and dealt with mostly social issues. I’m not sure which show first decided to introduce or change their format to “freak,” but for several years day-time talk shows all raced to the bottom to dredge up some of the most rank and foul topics and guests. It was bizarre. America couldn’t stop watching as individuals barfed up confessions, hurled insults (not to mention furniture) and generally displayed the most embarrassing behavior. Again, I’m writing this from memory, but it seems like the talk show sewer tide only shifted when Oprah Winfrey declared she was changing her format to focus on more positive issues. Eventually those shows hosted by Jenny Jones, Maury Povich, and Ricki Lake were cancelled. Oprah, as we all know, went on to the most successful day-time talk show of network history, make more money than god and influence presidential elections.
What does that have to do with cartooning? I’m feeling like the comment section is drifting downward and much of that is my fault. Not sure how many noticed, but over the last year or so, I relaxed enforcement of the rules. Threads I would have shut down early I left to burn themselves out. I figured if this is what my readers want, then fine, let them deal with the flame wars. Only it’s usually not the participants who have to deal with the fallout, it’s me. I get emails, direct messages and even phone calls. I get demands that comments be deleted, individuals banned, even full threads be removed. Another reason I’ve come to dislike the comments is The Daily Cartoonist brand has suffered. Without fail, when a thread bursts into flames, I will see several negative Twitter users tweet their disgust. Sometimes they acknowledge it’s the participants that are behaving badly, but more often than not it is “The Daily Cartoonist” in general that is mentioned in bad light. Lastly, I’ve found myself avoiding certain stories – stories that are worthy topics for the blog – but I don’t have the energy or time to deal with the assured flame war.
So, like the wise Oprah, I’m making some changes in hopes of creating a higher level of dialog. You’ve no doubt seen the “like” and “dislike” feature. Truthfully, I’m not a fan of this particular implementation and it won’t be here long. I installed Disqus last weekend with the intent to use that as the new comment system, but pulled back because it lacked the ability to put a “recent comments” feature on the homepage (which is HIGHLY popular). The general aim with any system I adopted is to discourage comment trolls from participating. If we can manage the trolls, meaningful dialog will result.
So here is the road map going forward. A new comment system will be put in place that allows you, the community who use the comments, to help keep the dialog civil. I’m not asking for everyone to agree or be quiet if you disagree – I’m simply asking for you to be respectful of other participants. The future ability to flag bad behavior will hopefully show trolls they’re not welcome and they leave. If they won’t abide by the rules, I’ll permanently block their participation. Currently there are about 30 individuals blacklisted, I suspect in the next few months that list will grow.
Should that fail, my next line of defense will be to move to a moderated system. I’m thinking of a “Letters to the editor” type feature where only comments that are interesting, coherent and/or free of troll bait will be approved.
The last option is to close the comments completely. It’s the nuclear option that I hope I never have to use.
So that’s a very long explanation to the new “like”, “dislike” feature. Thanks for your patience and thanks for your participation. I recognize the comment section is a highly popular feature and I only want to improve it.