Moderating User Content in the Land of Journalism

    by Dan Schultz
    November 6, 2007

    When people talk about the job of a moderator, they are talking about maintaining some type of standard. During a conference panel a good moderator might make sure that all the panelists get the chance to talk and keep the audience from throwing tomatoes. For YouTube it means promoting quality entertainment and keeping out the spam. But how do you maintain standards that are as high and complex as those of the journalism tradition, and how do you keep those standards in a democratic way?

    We have all faced these questions in one form or another, particularly when discussing the “un-moderated” Internet and the citizen journalism debate. One side might say that it is too difficult to effectively moderate journalistic content without a newsroom and trained professionals; the other might say that a writer’s or web site’s reputation will moderate itself, and poor reporting will not be mistaken for good reporting in the long run. I’m going to continue to stay out of that conversation for now by rightfully using the excuse that I’m too green to know all the facts (feel free to put out your two cents in the comment box down there).

    Since I’m trying to design a system that “bridges the gap between professional news reporting and citizen journalism,” I really don’t have a choice in the matter. I have to plan something that will function to properly moderate and fact check the content before it is published. I also can’t resort to only giving select individuals (i.e. moderators or editors) the power to single handedly remove or change a story, since that raises censorship flags and may not scale well when dealing with thousands of articles a day.


    It seems like a pretty bleak situation. The site can’t publish content without moderation, but at the same time it can’t have democratic moderation without publishing. Luckily, there is an answer to this paradox which comes from the Flash animation repository Newgrounds.com. This site has a ‘portal’ section where new animations are publicly judged before being accepted onto the system. In other words, they solve the problem by creating a “purgatory” section dedicated to separating the sheep from the goats.

    That isn’t good enough just yet, since Flash animation repositories allow a lot of content to get through that wouldn’t fly on a news site. So to improve upon this online judgment system I suggest combining it with the peer reviewing practices of the academic world – specifically the targeting of experts/those with vested interest during the review process. By continuing down this path the idea may well become robust enough to guarantee the appropriate handling of journalistic standards across all categories without sacrificing quality, scalability, or democracy.

    I’ll continue to publicly explore this in future posts.

    Tagged: maintaining standards moderation user content

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