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Editor's Note: A New Chapter for Linux Today

Aug 10, 2001, 07:23 (167 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Michael Hall)

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Yesterday was an important day for Linux Today, because it started a dialogue that was clearly beginning too late. I spent most of the day and a large part of the evening reading comments on Linux Today and elsewhere, coming to grips with what we were being told by readers.

What most probably do not realize is that I have been effectively running LinuxToday for the past few weeks. Kevin Reichard asked to be re-assigned within the company and he has been phasing out his involvement in internet.com's Linux channel. As of earlier this week, I took over the reins completely.

The most disturbing trend I picked up as I followed reader comments yesterday was the sense that Linux Today's quality has been in decline over the past few months. Part of that sentiment is based on a reduced story count. The general sense that the site has subtly changed could only be given a negative tint by claims that Linux Today has been "log-rolling" and excluding other sites from its coverage for competitive reasons. I have to address both, because they're key to issues of trust so many readers brought up.

Times have been hard around the Web publishing industry. Linux Today has struggled with those hard times the same as everybody else. Our corporate parents set budgets for the site that were too optimistic and valuable colleagues have been released because there's been no way to sustain the staff sizes with which we entered the year. Our bullpen has dwindled to the point Linux Today is, by necessity, a largely one-editor operation. The story count couldn't help but go down.

Intertwined with this decline in content are the accusations that Linux Today has been unfairly exclusive of other sites for competitive reasons. This is a hard, nuanced issue to address, but it relates critically to the value Linux Today provides.

The site has a responsibility to the company that pays the bills.

I believe in the quality of the content that comes from around internet.com, and I have a general belief it is worth inclusion on Linux Today. That's never been a hidden process: when an internet.com site is either linked or its story re-used, it's shown either in the site attribution or the writer's byline, which invites the reader to assess whether to click through or not based on his or her experience with the source.

The site has a responsibility to its readers.

My publication experience includes work on college newspapers, small town weeklies, and company newsletters. I understand full well that any source of news is viewed by its audience as a community trust. When thousands of readers come through your doors every day looking for news, they're making a silent statement about the quality of your work, and they're making an implicit declaration of trust.

Readers clearly find it abhorrent that Linux Today might ignore good sources and stories out of over-competitive impulses. The reputation of the site had been one of general inclusiveness for years, and as we've tried to adjust to the market and the state of reporting on Linux, we've changed. It's clear from responses that we haven't found our stride.

Through all of this, we've believed we were looking for the right balance. We will continue to reject some submissions and fail to link to some stories. There are 'bot sites on the Web that automate and harvest anything that passes the Linux 'grep test,' and no one has ever believed they offer the ability to provide what editors exercising good judgment can provide: a news feed that provides timely, useful information.

I hope readers will stick around to see whether we've listened well enough through this to justify renewed confidence in that editorial judgement. I also hope readers understand that we'll continue to listen, and that we'll respond to queries about editorial decisions, as we always have, when they're directed to us via e-mail.

Our talkbacks will continue to be moderated by Linux Today staff. Other sites choose to allow unrestricted discussion, and we respect their decision, but the conclusion we have reached after examination of this issue is that when our talkbacks are moderated dispassionately, readers find more value in them. As the talkback policy already states, comments by readers that contain profanity and personal attacks will be deleted. We will continue to struggle with the issue of discerning what constitutes useless and inflammatory provocation, but we believe we provide the best forum possible when we provide moderation. We also believe the majority of our readers will provide good speech to counter the bad.

Anyone who has a suspicion that their comments were deleted unfairly is always free to write editors@linuxtoday.com and we will respond. We will respect the anonymity of readers who choose to challenge our moderation.

We will also not permit the use of pseudonyms by staff members in our talkbacks. Though debate continues on the acceptability of the practice, that debate will invariably involve gray areas that we believe are best avoided by forbidding the practice.

Because of the long-standing nature of this issue, I'll maintain this editorial toward the top of our newsfeed for the next day in order to allow full discussion among our readers. I'll make myself available in our talkbacks as much as other duties permit to answer direct queries pertinent to this editorial. I believe this exchange will be just as valuable in restoring trust between us as anything I could write.

Michael Hall
Managing Editor, Linux Today