There was no video or audio, because the judge in juvenile court decided it was better to sentence the 16-year-old girl who killed her father without pictures and sound. I covered the story as I had other court stories for years.
It was one of those stories, that after you were through, your stomach hurt. I should have taken time to ask myself: "Could that story turn into an interactive nightmare?"
Newspapers all over the country have been debating how they use reader comments, including at the New York Times, which edits them.
The tragic story of abuse inside a Wichita family that led to a teenage girl shooting her father to death pointed out why we should think about them.
We were busy working on the next day’s news cycle, when the girl’s lawyer, Laura Shaneyfelt, called and asked if we’d been reading the reader comments on the story. They started out with comments from what looked like regular readers. The story was shocking enough. But as the morning turned to afternoon, personal comments began to emerge. Although we had never named the juvenile girl, her name suddenly popped up.
Then someone blamed the slain father’s mother, by name. It was apparent that a family feud had fired up on-line at Kansas.com.
We shut the comments down. I soon received a call from a woman who said she’d tried to find the comments, after someone told her about them, and couldn’t find them. I told her they’d gotten out of hand and we needed to eliminate them and stop the discussion.
“Thank you,” she said.
Other crime stories have drawn racist remarks on our pages.
We’ve been told that legally if you edit individual comments you can limit your defense should a bad one slip through.
We have issue similar to reporters at other paper I talk to: you can write a story about quilting and someone, somewhere will eventually leave a comment about how quilting promotes illegal immigration. What are you going to do?
Some problems, however, we can head off before they start. We now have the option of clicking a “no comments” box before sending our stories to the desk. I thought that was a box to signify we’d tried to talk to a cantankerous politician. I’ve been assured it removes the opportunity for controversial comments from readers.
We now have a list of stories we should consider in checking that box, including stories that name victims or defendants.
We also check the box on stories “likely to produce ribald comments,” although as I tell our editors, those are my personal favorites.
As we tackle the large learning curves of melding layers of our coverage with audio and video, we should also remember to read the comments on our stories each day.
I’d be interested in hearing what other papers are doing.To do that, well, leave a comment.