Monday, December 13, 2010

Monday Media Rant: What Did They Expect?

The Badger Herald, a somewhat-right-leaning campus publication, decided last week to “out” UW students who bought Rose Bowl tickets and then immediately put them up for resale at a higher price. In an editorial, the paper printed the names of about three dozen students and called them “the worst people on campus” and further opined that there was a “special place in hell” reserved for those students who attempted to profit from online resale (Craigslist, of the tickets.

The local media quickly picked up the story, and it was fodder for the talk radio hosts for a few days. Then, the Badger Herald’s young “journalists” learned a few things about how people operate. By mid-week, the paper had removed the names of the students from its website, and closed down the “comment” section of the story after threats were made. They said they knew there were hundreds more students involved than just the few dozen names they published, but didn’t have the staff to check out all the allegations. They also threw the Editor-in-Chief under the bus, saying Wednesday that the list was his idea, and not the joint idea of the editorial board.

Welcome to the real world, students.

There’s plenty of precedent for this “worst person” concept. MSNBC blabber Keith Olbermann has his “worst person in the world” segment every night. Dick Nixon had his “White House Enemies” list. One Madison lefty who hosts a local cable TV music show frequently names an “asshat of the day” on his Facebook page. Rush Limbaugh does the same thing by name-calling: “Barack The Magic Negro” and “Janet Incompetano” just to name a couple examples.

The young Badger Herald “journalists” seemed somewhat surprised at how mean and nasty – and threatening – the comments were, prompting them to shut down the comment section. This is a HUGE issue in the news biz today, from the very top and most-respected bastions of journalism right down to the local blogger who has a following of only a few people. Anonymous commenters can be real…well, asshats.

A few months ago, a horrible tragedy befell one of our neighbors. One of the local TV stations ran the story on its website, and allowed unmoderated comments. Such disgusting, untrue, and anonymous filth was posted there that my wife and I both personally implored station management to shut down the hateful and hurtful comments. They didn’t.

But other media outlets have taken a much more robust stance on allowing comments or forcing registration with a verifiable name and e-mail address, and the whole thing is a very hot potato right now, with lots of journalism eggheads weighing in on the issue. Some say removing comments and moderating responses is a form of censorship to be avoided at all costs; some say it’s the responsibility of the news outlet to monitor the content and enforce community standards of good taste.

To the young folks at the Badger Herald, I’ll simply proffer an old cliché as advice: if you can’t stand the heat…..


  1. Ha! A special circle of hell for entrepreneurs, eh? Out here on the eastern edge of civilization, ticket-scalping is a pillar of the off-the-books economy. It is utterly endemic. Every hotel concierge in town plays that game.

    If you offer your game ticket at a mark-up, how is that different from the on-line box-office outfits who do the same thing, only on a grand scale?

    As for the commentariat ... My recent days have been much occupied trying to rein in the indignant who rose to high (and oftentimes offensive) dudgeon over the annual squabble about removing an unauthorized Nativity scene from some scrap of public property.

    The comments can be quite vituperous and nasty because those posting the comments are utterly anonymous. If any good comes of this, I'm not seeing it.

  2. First off, a "right-leaning" paper printed that?

    That's Cassandra-ish all by itself.

    JSOnline, fwiw, allows comments under pseudonym, but they DO know who's making them.

    I'm of mixed mind on the question, because comments--however ugly and stupid--expose the reality of society.

    Proves that the 'outliers' actually exist, I guess.

  3. *insert generic hate-filled comments here*