Media Companies Tinker with Image Management

    October 5, 2007

Gone are the days when my mental picture of the community "out there" was shaped by the the hand-picked Letters to the Editor in the print newspaper.

Ever since newspapers like the Globe and Mail have admonished everyone to "join the conversation," I’ve noticed that the immediacy of online has led to a proliferation of sophomoric, hurtful, crude, and otherwise unhelpful contributions. And comment boards degenerate into flame wars. It’s enough to remind one that our politicians are relatively polite and relatively intelligent when they yell at one another.

It looks like the media companies are encouraging this type of conversation, on one hand, and then pulling back on it when it gets out of hand.

A story on alleged sexual assault charges laid at a middle school started out with a long conversation thread on the National Post website. Subsequent syndicated versions of the story online seem to show no obvious conversation thread. The Globe and Mail, which features a "join the conversation" sidebar on dry stories like "Jobless Rate Hits 33-Year Low," is careful to avoid conversations about sensitive topics like this, apparently — though positively giddy to encourage "debate" about whether thigh-high boots are appropriate office wear. But bending over backwards to avoid the conversation doesn’t end the embarrassment for the Globe: the AdSense ads appearing next to the sexual assault story seem irrelevant and/or in poor taste.

Are the media companies picking and choosing when it’s appropriate to converse?