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Cheers - AE

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Fairfax and its comments policy - UPDATED

The online editions of the Fairfax group, that is The Sydney Morning Herald, The Brisbane Times, Melbourne's The Age, WA Today etc., have a strange and unpredictable comments policy. They moderate, though of course many other newspapers, including the News Corp ones here, do the same thing. What's strange and unpredictable is that comments are often closed not long after an article is published, and that this can be a day or two or even a few hours, while other articles may remain open to comments apparently indefinitely and still others may not have comments enabled at all.

And so it is with an op-ed piece I linked to in yesterday's blog about the Screws of the World being closed down. Wrong red-top goes, by Tim Dick, the SMH media editor, went up yesterday morning, and pointed out the incongruity of Rebekah Brooks apparently staying put while the paper was being shut down. However, it was also a semi-canonisation piece about how wonderful The Grauniad have been.
The scandal has been in the making for a decade, with inquiries by a parliamentary committee, the police and the Press Complaints Commission unable to do what The Guardian eventually did through its own tenacious reporting.

There are few heroes in this story. The Guardian is one. It uncovered the sordid mess over years of real journalism, helped from time to time by The New York Times and The Independent - and only joined finally this week by the rest of the British media, even News's own title, The Times, once the game was up.
Not surprising sentiment in a paper that's virtually the upside-down version of The Graun and certainly a kindred spirit but it did make me chuckle a bit when I read it. I thought about leaving a comment to the effect that while I agreed with the point about Rebekah Brooks I thought it was naive to assume that The Graun, noted hypocrite that it is on matters of minimising tax liability, would never, ever have done anything shady in its own pursuit of a scoop. Unfortunately I also thought, 'Meh, maybe tomorrow.' And that was a bad idea because after what might have been as few as seven hours judging by the first and last comments' time stamps...
And this means that I can't now express my reservations about Tim Dick's adoration for The Graun or draw his attention and that of his readers to Guido's blog about The Guardian's own story hunting methods.

I'd like to say something to Tim Dick about how this is awfully like some of what the NotW was up to and that while he's not throwing stones from a glass house he's singing the praises of people who apparently do. However, thanks to Fairfax Media Group's policy of often closing the door on comments after less than a day I can't inconvenience him with the information that The Graun are less than saintly themselves.

UPDATE - here's an extreme example of Fairfax's comments policy from The Age. The article, about real estate agents seemingly being less than frank about the state of Melbourne's property market (i.e. fucking overpriced, struggling to sell and likely to drop) is dated today, Sunday 10th July. We can't tell when the comments were actually closed but we can see the times of the first and last, which were 9:20am and 11:56am. Of course it's possible that the comments just dried up and some time this afternoon they decided to knock it on the head, but in the two and a half hours between the first and last 65 comments - one every 144 seconds on average - were made. Draw your own conclusions but I'd guess it was not long after the last comment at 11:56. As for why they do it I really don't know. It can't simply be censorship when they moderate all comments anyway so unless there's a significant cost to keeping comments open after a certain point, which then raises the question of why some articles remain open for comments for ages, I'm at a loss to explain it.
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