Feb. 16 2012 12:00 AM

Move is expected to 'refine the tone and content of the comments without hindering their flow'

The new owners of U-T San Diego have been making a lot of changes at the city's main daily newspaper. The latest involves new policies for censoring monitoring comments on its website. According to an email sent to staff:
Comment moderation: We have hired an outside company to monitor our comments 24/7, hiding comments that do not meet our standards. Reporters will be getting emails from the moderators at ICUC Moderation services alerting them to comments that may warrant their attention. You don't have to respond to these moderators, but thanking them or letting them know of any action you take will help them get used to how we operate and welcome them to the family. This is a major step we expect will further refine the tone and content of the comments without hindering their flow. This does not replace the need for reporters to read the comments and, when called for, to interact with the commenters on their stories.
This is interesting for a few reasons. First, before he was editor of the U-T, Jeff Light was known for experimenting with comment moderation at the Orange County Register, including training retirees to monitor discussion. Secondly, a group of pissed-off U-T readers recently formed a rogue website, signedoffsandiego.com (a play on the newspaper's old URL "signonsandiego.com"), as a forum for their debates. Finally, the U-T has grabbed the attention of journalists nationwide after some of its decisions to shut down comments, particularly on a controversial Christmas editorial written by new owner "Papa" Doug Manchester.

And now, they've hired private comment police.

The U-T isn't the first news organization to enlist ICUC Moderation. The company also lists the San Francisco Chronicle's SFGate.com and NPR as clients. For the most part, however, they serve corporations, like Chevron, Starbucks and Intel.


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