Banned by the Pros: Reuters News Succumbs to Digital Randomness

by on August 28, 2012 · 2 comments

in Business, Culture

By Bob Dorn

Banned. That’s the word Reuters used back in March – March 20 of this year, it was ‐‐ when their pop‐up popped up just after I’d clicked the SUBMIT button.

POW!! “We’re sorry, you’ve been banned from our comment posts,” they said, or words like those. Imagine seeing that word, BANNED, in a sentence bearing your name. Would a banning from a news organization show up on your credit rating? During an investigation of your CV by a prospective employer? If you were under the age of 18 would Reuters reach out and tell your parents about the banning?

The thing is, I don’t load my online comments with harsh invective. Like, I don’t call anybody “a dirty liar,” which is what Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Preibus called Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid not very long
ago. Reince Preibus got away with it; I bet even the dainty and fastidious Reuters used the quote, which is pretty disturbing considering that Reince Preibus itself sounds kind of … well, dirty. Reince your priebus before you touch anyone with it. See what I’m talking about?

Aside from that first paragraph above, I don’t tend toward using a lot of capital letters and exclamation points. And, aside from the last few sentences of the second paragraph above my posts don’t tend to pointlessly degrade others who
make comments, or use obscenities. I wanted back in the game. It seemed to me Reuters wasn’t playing fair.

Because their message that I was BANNED was accompanied by a “what is this?” button I found out that there were nine general reasons Reuters will close readers out of its dialogues; the obvious ones, curse words, and personal attacks,
the less obvious and more literary ones (no useless exclamation points, excessive capitalization) and the frankly subjective, including incivility and off-the‐point meanderings into favorite political territory – a pretty high bar to set
when you consider even The New York Times, the “Great Grey Lady” in newspaper parlance, will allow readers to accuse each other of willful ignorance and political perversion.

People can say the damndest things on the net simply because it’s so very ephemeral – blink, and the comment is gone, replaced by another, and another, so that no mistaken notion can either take hold or be corrected. Also, you can be
anonymous, because… er… your name doesn’t mean anything to anybody but your family and friends. We’re all pretty much in the same stewpot down here and so we’re all free to act like the plebians we are. Many of the comment chains,
even those of the major television networks, make you feel like you’ve traveled back in time and space to some Chicago or Bronx bar at mid‐century, where all the warehousemen or stevedores are into their fourth boilermaker and looking
for trouble.

Actually, I adjust my language for the site I’m on. You have to go real slow and not use big words at CNN and USA Today. I’d never do that on The New York Times site, where I sometimes work in “hegemony” in phrases like, “hegemony of
the overprivileged.” At any rate, I never Bronx bomb people on the sites I visit. I do hope to make them cry, miserable with the knowledge that their reading of Ayn Rand isn’t enough in an online argument to make up for their failure to
study humanities in college.

Reuters is actually Thomson Reuters, the first name being that of Roy Thomson, an Anglo‐Canadian press baron who became richer than Croesus while Rupert Murdoch was still eating porridge in Australia. The Thomson empire was, and is, conservative, more in the color of Newt Gingrich and the second incarnation of Mitt Romney than, say, truly conservative. The second name, Reuters, is that of a printer from Berlin who started with pamphlets and went on to thrive publishing economic data and, later, world news from its London base. The marriage gave the fetid rascal Thomson a much‐needed infusion of legitimacy. Legitimacy probably is behind the too‐careful sensibilities Reuters insists on. Just sayin’.

The fact is, Reuters is often the first, and sometimes the only news service available to Americans that will cover international stories, which is probably a consequence of its Canadian‐Anglo‐German history. Conservative as Scrooge, it nevertheless can make sense of the exotic world beyond San Diego, which is of some interest to me. Which is why I couldn’t shake the conviction that Reuters had mistakenly BANNED me; maybe a keystroke error had sent me to purgatory.

Every now and then I’d test to see if the BAN was still in effect. I’d rip something smart and hot and hit SUBMIT, trying harder and harder to be smart each time, and each time the same message would pop up, “We’re sorry, you’ve been
BANNED (capitalization mine) from commenting on this site.”

It was so cold and aristocratic; they could actually apologize at the same time they told me I was not welcome. I still can’t get over it.

My most recent attempt to comment was last week, when Reuters was the first to report on the massacre of striking South African platinum miners who’d made the mistake of showing off their machetes and clubs before riot police and as a result were blasted into the dust in a fusillade of automatic weapons fire. Reuters was the first to report the story, and put the dead at 10 (days later the number had swelled to 34). In their first paragraph they blamed the dead, saying
the uneven confrontation came “after nearly a week of union violence.” I figured that it would have been more correct to blame the deaths on “police violence,” typed up a couple of sentences to that effect and hit the SUBMIT
button (capitalization mine).

This time, I wasn’t BANNED; instead, my password couldn’t be recognized. Did I want to reset it? YES!!!. Then, in my email, the reset window told me I was successful, and I raced back to Reuters with the comment on “government
violence,” which I figured has more impact than “police violence,” because we’ve gotten to the point we expect police to be violent.

They thanked me for the comment but, read the pop‐up, “the site is encountering technical difficulties.” For the following three or four days I checked into Reuters and tested to see if the new password worked but all I got was the same message that the site has some unresolved technical issues. And, in fact, even as I write this, Reuters is still showing 0 Comments below its stories; even their exuberances over Paul Ryan show no comments.

The noble and objective Reuters has fallen victim to digital randomness. Reuters is not much better off than I am.

Bob Dorn has written for national and local publications, and taught writing at UCSD.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar John Lawrence August 28, 2012 at 10:38 am

Apologizing for telling you you’re not welcome is something of an art form. I always get a kick when I see signs at the YMCA saying “the pool will be closed today. We’re sorry for any inconvenience.” No they’re not. I doubt if any employees of the Y sit around wringing their hands commiserating over the fact that I’m not going to be able to use the pool that day. This is only one of the stupid signs I see in public places. Another one: “Don’t do (whatever) at any time.” I think the “at any time” is superfluous. I could go on.

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avatar Jimmy Jadow August 30, 2012 at 3:40 pm

It isn’t showing the technical issues anymore – it is just that none are showing up. It seems curious to me that it has gone on this long.

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