How I’m surviving my first year as adviser: Online Comments

I’m a first-year adviser of an online-only student newspaper at a suburban Chicago school of roughly 2,500 students. I began the school year with five students in my newspaper production class; this semester, it’s up 50%. I supervise about 10 other students, who work for the paper extracurricularly, during free periods and lunch and after school. I am envious of Jim Streisel and his extremely large staff.

We use WordPress as our CMS (who doesn’t?). We receive an average of 23,000 page views a month, and currently have more than 350 comments posted, since we launched September 20, 2010. We have a Facebook, a Twitter, a tumblr. I’ve already had to pull two things: a news article and a video–per my principal’s orders. And our school has had its share of hard news stories this year, including: a visit from members of the Westboro Baptist Church, a teacher arrested for drunk driving and drug possession, planned teacher and course cuts, and a controversial turnabout dance theme that had our Facebook page buzzing. (Guess what story I had to pull?)

Every day I think: I love this job. And then I think: What have I gotten into? I worry about the next tumblr post that may get me fired–yet, I still allow it. I worry about getting it right when we’re under a self-imposed daily deadline. I live in fear of our incessant commenter who copy edits for us and always lets us know when we’ve spelled someone’s name wrong. (Note to self: get this kid on staff!). I wonder if I’m teaching my students anything when we’re so busy producing the news.

So with this column/blog, I thought I’d post every few weeks about the trials and tribulations of first-year advising. I’m hoping to give advice (especially to those of you who are thinking about going online) and receive it. And I’m hoping my issues are your issues–and this series can be a springboard for discussion. How can we do this job better–and more efficiently? Without tears.

This week’s dilemma:

COMMENTS! Ugh. I love them, but they are soon becoming the bane of my existence, especially as our student body comments more and more. At the beginning of the year, we made our students register/login to comment. Then we realized that this scared many people away, so we went to the simple, give-us-a-name-and-email method. But recently some students have been impersonating another student–to be funny or to get him in trouble, I’m not sure which. Once I caught on, I deleted the comments; however, I’m wondering if anyone else has had to deal with this? What did you do?

How do you manage comments in general? What are your comment policies? And what’s your advice to those of us new to this Pandora’s box of sorts?

6 thoughts on “How I’m surviving my first year as adviser: Online Comments

  • January 26, 2011 at 10:08 am
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    What a refreshing post, Evelyn (especially since I’m mentioned in it!). Seriously, your commentary is exactly what advisers need to hear. For those of us who have had web staffs for a long time, it’s easy to give advice, but it’s also easy to lose sight of those early trials and tribulations.

    As for the comments, we allow WordPress to hold them in a queue for approval (you can find that setting in your Dashboard). Management team members are in charge of approving or deleting messages. Basically, the rule of thumb is that they only delete messages that are clearly spam or include profanity or personal attacks. Granted, the comments don’t appear immediately on the stories they accompany, but it keeps our administration happy and provides a level of decorum to the whole process.

    I’m looking forward to more posts.

  • January 26, 2011 at 10:59 am
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    Thanks, Jim. We do the same thing with comments. Maybe that was unclear in the post. I need to approve them first. Do you have editors approve them for you?

  • January 26, 2011 at 6:55 pm
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    My staff does things a bit differently. They started the process with approving things first and then moved to allowing comments to post and removing them if there looked to be a problem.

    The web editor gets alerted each time there is a comment and immediately looks it over. If there are no problems with it, he leaves it. If there is a problem he removes it or asks for advice. To be honest, we haven’t really had any problem with it. I’m sure if there were major problems, the staff would want to change the philosophy, they just chose to let things post so if there was a discussion, the talk was not inhibited by the ability of someone to moderate each comment quickly.

    Personally, comments are tough for me. I know it’s a nice chance to build community, and in the high school realm, my experience with the comments have been pretty positive. The professional online papers though are a different story. I’ve had to stop reading online comments as they generally tend to have tones that can get downright nasty for no particular reason.

    Great job here.

  • January 27, 2011 at 8:44 am
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    Aaron, I totally agree with you about professional online papers. It can really get out of hand. We’ve had some heated student debate via comments online too.

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