Almanac Life: The end of civilisation as we have known it?

One of the saddest discoveries recently is that the Conversation—source of many articles for The Age and many other media outlets—is having to stop allowing comments on articles on Indigenous issues. Apparently such offerings attract a mass of racist rubbish which has to be moderated out of existence at a very high cost in time by staff that would be much better spent on editing articles.


I need to declare an interest because I have had a number of articles published in the Conversation over the years. One of them, sensitively edited and moderated by Michael Courts, resulted in what I described at the time as the best tutorial in which I had ever taken part. It ran over several days and only concluded when one participant had a bee in his bonnet about what I rudely called ‘ball determinism’. He argued that until something like the Sherrin came along participants couldn’t take high marks, so that’s why Indigenous people’s skill at taking speccies when playing marngrook was not parlayed into the game in the mid-nineteenth century.


Another one started brightly but the third and fourth commenters had obviously strayed from another thread or article and immediately introduced completely irrelevant material, which set the discussion off on a very different tack. I got back to the new American editor pointing this out, hoping he would intervene, but he simply closed the comments down. Neither he nor the general editor were disposed to reopen the facility so that was disappointing.


I suspect the problem is not unique to the Conversation and other newspapers have found a number of ways of discouraging comments. Making it difficult to find the electronic copy of the article is one way. Sometimes the article which appears on the printed page does not make it into the electronic version. You can ring the paper and ask the contact person to arrange to have it added online, but that does not always happen timeously or at all. Getting through directly to the author is sometimes possible if you know or can work out their email address or their Facebook or Twitter account. The latter two are no use to me since I must be one of the few people left in Australia who does not subscribe to either of these platforms. I get more than enough spam and phishing material as it is.


So the Almanac seems like an oasis in this mad desert, though I expect that John, Col and the team spend a fair bit of time saving us all from the trolls. The key element though, I suppose, is the courtesy and common sense of the writers who are attracted to this site. That does not appear to rule out strong opinions and good ding-dong arguments when necessary, but somehow the ethos is collegiate and cooperative even when serious matters are afoot. Long may it continue.



To read more from Roy, click HERE


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  1. Kevin Densley says

    Well said, Roy!

    The Footy Almanac is certainly a broad church, in the best sense of the term.

  2. John Butler says

    Roy, over my long involvement with the Almanac I’ve always been struck by the civility and wit of the conversations.

    We really haven’t had to do that much censoring of comments. This is a tribute to the readers and writers.


  3. Well said Roy. I was greatly taken by this recent interview with documentary maker and historian Ken Burns
    He is about to release a documentary series on Hemingway after his epics on Baseball; the Civil War; Prohibition; Jazz etc.
    He quotes a judge saying “liberty is never being too sure you’re right”.
    Social media lets us curate our information flow into a monoculture of self reinforcing assertions.

  4. Thank you, gentlemen. I like the notion of a broad church, Kevin. As one on the agnostic side of atheism, I think one life is quite enough and we have to make the best of it, in part by believing in the better part of our tribe. I’m glad you haven’t been overworked in the editorial role, in this respect, John. You and your colleagues do a brilliant job. Ken Burns is one of my heroes too, Peter. I only read the Australian to find what the class enemy is up to these days and to see if Gideon Haigh has an article therein.
    I had an example of the problem of finding a means to reply to an article by James Boyce in today’s Harvey Norman. Just to express my concern that the Victorian Truth Commission might have the unintended consequence of treating our Indigenous people as victims or allowing others to believe that they were. They were, but that is only part of their story. We need to understand the resilient responses of those who survived in intolerable circumstances and were able to take on the invaders at a whole range of their activities within a generation or so. These people are the ones whose untold stories need to be better known as well.

  5. Hear, hear, Roy.
    In my experience as an editor, I have never had to delete a comment (yet!!)

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