The Cleveland Park group is a neighborhood discussion list. As this group has grown, it has become, in many ways, like a small town. The group’s size and diversity make it more than just an email list: The Cleveland Park group is a virtual community that overlaps a physical community.
The group moderators are more than just moderators: they are, in a sense, the publishers and editors of their neighborhood’s online newspaper.This is a place where members of the group can exchange news about the neighborhood, including new stores, street construction, development, city services, robberies and break-ins, traffic, parking, stuff for sale, places for rent, where to eat, where to get a great plumber, schools, and more. Members of the group think of it as a their neighborhood post office, playground or supermarket, where you’d meet and chat with your neighbors.
How does it work? The Cleveland Park group functions much like a “letters to the editor” column, in that the moderators must read and permit the posting of each message. The group’s moderators do not necessarily publish every message sent in, even if the message conforms to all the list rules; there is no “right” to have a message sent out to groups members. The moderators are free to make judgments about the messages for reasons of their own and are under no obligation to discuss the reasons for turning down a message with the group member who sent it in or with other group members. In other words, this group is not a public forum but a privately run, members-only service. This group is not like many other Internet forums you may be on elsewhere, where anything goes.
Bill Adler, co-owner of the Cleveland Park group says that
“moderating the listserv is interesting, it’s fun, it puts you square in the center of what’s happening in our neighborhood, it gives you power over people’s messages and it also hands you a fair amount of responsibility. Our main goal is to protect the people on the listserv from anyone who would spam, harass, or disrupt the civil discourse of the people on the Cleveland Park Email List, or take advantage of the list.”
Due to the group’s size, multiple moderators are necessary to keep the group humming. In order to ensure the group’s integrity is maintained and its members protected, Bill and his wife Peggy developed a moderator’s handbook to offer guidance to new moderators of the group. In addition to the Cleveland Park Moderator’s Handbook, the Bill and Peggy also developed a set of group rules that they ask all of their members and moderators to review and adhere to.
Bill and Peggy feel that it is often beneficial when moderating to confer with other moderators if there are concerns about a message. A rule-of-thumb they often use when it comes to deciding whether or not a message should be approved: is the message suitable for a newspaper letter-to-the-editor? Since that’s the standard they aspire to.
Excerpts from the Cleveland Park Moderator’s Handbook are included below:
How to Deal with Messages That Are Not Approved
There are lots of reasons why messages get deleted. The group’s rules and the sample posts grid (at the end of the rules) give fairly thorough guidance for moderators in most cases, but the top ten reasons are:
- Unsigned Message. All messages need to show the name of the sender at the END of the message. Use of initials or screen names is not permitted, as we think that gives a sense of anonymity to the message.
- Ad that Doesn’t Fit the List’s Advertising Rules. The list’s Ad-Check page at http://cpadcheck.notlong.com lays out all the many restrictions that we have to hold the number of ads to a minimum. Any ad that doesn’t meet all the rules will be axed.
- Out of Area Notice. Our rules page outlines the exact boundaries, although we will occasionally bend the boundaries if the message contains some neighborhood-specific connection. But the poster does need to make an effort to connect an out-of-boundary issue to the neighborhood: If, for example, there’s a rally in front of the Kazakhstan embassy on 16th Street, the poster can’t simply say, “Many Cleveland Park residents are interested in Kazakhstan…” However, if the poster if hosting a “Learn about Kazakhstan evening at her home in the neighborhood following the rally, then the message could be okay for the list.
- Reply Meant to Be Private or Containing Private Information. This can occur when the poster hits the wrong reply option by accident, or it can occur when the person believes a reply is suited to the whole list, but the moderators feel otherwise. We also will not post a message that reprints all or part of a person’s off-list message or that lists someone’s home phone number, unless that person has asked for the information to be published.
- Off-Topic Posting. This includes computer tech talk, discussion of national or international issues, and even discussion of city-wide issues when there’s nothing in the message referencing the neighborhood impact of the matter under discussion.
- Uncivil Tone. We strictly enforce rules against name-calling, ridicule, questioning the motives of the poster, or challenging another list member to respond.
- It’s Been Said Already (or the message doesn’t say anything.) Unlike most other listservs, we don’t put through messages that repeat the same information or that are no more than “me, too” posts. We also delete “I don’t know” posts, such as, “I used that computer repair place on Wisconsin near the bagel place, but I don’t remember the name.”
- It’s a Press Release, a Crosspost, a Forward, or Copy of Material from a Website. We only publish messages that are the original writing of the poster, written specifically for the members of this listserv.
- It’s Got Formatting Problems. Messages shouldn’t be dashed off but written to the standards for submission to a newspaper. That means they need to be typed properly, with normal capitalization and punctuation, and not too many typos. Messages using ALL CAPS and multiple exclamation points are always deleted.
- Subject Line Needs to Be Fixed. We don’t publish messages with Digest in the subject line, or that start in the subject line and continue in the text box, or that don’t accurately reflect what the message is about.
Posts that don’t meet the stated guidelines are quickly deleted. Depending on the problem with the message, we may give that member an opportunity to resubmit a corrected post. But on particularly busy list days, we are more likely just to delete without explanation, especially if it seems clear the poster has never read the list rules. For example, we would delete without explanation any mass-circulated press release for an out-of-neighborhood fundraiser, as it could only be submitted by someone who never bothered to read the list rules. We would also delete without comment a message that attacked another list member or just seemed nasty in tone, especially if it came from a poster who has a bad or uneven track record of past messages.
Fixing Small Errors in Messages That You’d Like to Approve
When it comes to simple errors, moderators will often make quick corrections to the post on the web site, using the “edit message” button. This is usually less trouble than writing to the member to ask the member to correct and resubmit. For example, it takes a moderator only a couple of seconds to edit out the repeated tag lines at the end of a previous message to which a reply is attached. This is a simple error that many new members make when submitting a reply. However, if you do this every time for a list member, the list member will never learn to trim the tag lines from his or her own messages. So there’s a case to be made for deleting the message and sending the list member a note about editing tag lines.
It’s entirely the moderator’s discretion as to how much help to give the members. We occasionally edit to correct spelling, punctuation, grammar, typos and even facts.
Here’s an example of the sort of correction a moderator would make: You see two pending posts, one announcing a yard sale, and the next one saying, “Oops, the sale goes from 9 am to noon instead of 8 to 11 am.” The moderator will just correct the time in the first post and put it through, and delete the second post, without writing to the poster. Of course, if someone has already put the first post through, then the moderator needs to let the second one go through, too.
Some other simple “clean-ups”* that moderators may choose to perform on pending posts are:
- changing the subject line from “Digest Number 12345” to whatever the message is about
- cutting out the repeated tag lines (list management/subscription lines) at the bottom of a reply/original message set
- cutting out long signature lines, especially any that carry advertising slogans or other business information not necessary for getting in touch with the poster.
- adding a list member’s name to the end of a message, if the list member forgot to sign it. (We generally will only do this for someone who usually signs the message but simply forgot this time.)
- correcting an obvious or embarrassing typo: for example, “That was goof advice about the parking meter” – the list member meant “good advice” and we changed it accordingly.
If you don’t have the time to make these repairs, messages that contain these problems – previous message’s tag lines, Digest in the subject line, too much extra verbiage at the end – can just be deleted.
Consulting Other Moderators
If you find yourself in doubt as to whether to: (a) delete, (b) delete with a note to the poster, or (c) edit and approve, it’s best to consult with at least one other moderator before acting.
What to do while waiting to get an opinion from another moderator? Go to the web site version of the message, go to “edit message” and insert the letters “HLD” followed by your initials at the beginning of the subject line of a message, then press “update,” and let the message sit. HLDPR tells the other moderators that the moderator with those initials has placed a “hold” on that message and will decide what to do with it later
We do try not to be too bureaucratic about the rules. Moderators are allowed to exercise their discretion whenever strict application of the rules seems to be in conflict with the spirit of neighborliness, or when it would have some adverse practical impact on the members, in the moderator’s best judgment. Example: An unsigned post comes through about a lost dog, last seen fifteen minutes ago on the corner of 34th and Newark. Better to put the post through right away than delay it by asking the member to sign it and resubmit. (Of course, if the poster’s name is apparent from the FROM line, you can just sign the message at the end with that person’s name.) We’ve also tended to be more lenient about the rules when a long-time and usually reliable poster puts in a questionable post. Example: A long-term list member posts about the John Eaton School Auction for the third time in a month. Our rules call for one original announcement, and at most, one reminder about an event. But if the posts are not simply duplicates, we’ll probably put it through rather than send a note about the too-frequent notices.
Just be aware that anytime you make an exception, you will get people writing to you to point out that the rules are being inconsistently applied. If that happens, it’s fine to reply with a brief note citing moderator’s discretion – or decide not to reply at all. This is a privately run list, and it’s an all-volunteer effort, so please don’t feel that you need to justify everything you do.
We never put through a post to the list suggesting that a moderator has been unfair or that the list rules should be changed. List members can send us comments or complaints off-list, and we’ll usually reply to polite suggestions, but we don’t feel obliged to do so. We often need to remind people that the listserv isn’t a public platform and that there isn’t a right to have a message posted – or even to be a member. We are obliged to follow Yahoo’s Terms of Service and not break the law- but otherwise, the listserv is ours to run as we see fit.
One final note. Because the Cleveland Park group has become an important community resource. It’s something that the neighborhood can’t be without. We’ve compared the moderators to editors of a small-town newspaper. But in some ways we’re also part of the community’s emergency response team. In a neighborhood-wide, city-wide, or even larger crisis, we need to be the ones who stay calm and focused, so that we can keep accurate and helpful information flowing. In our day to day operations, we just do our best to make sure that this e-town runs smoothly. The list’s rules are key for keeping this town functioning, but we should not let the rules prevent us from letting important or urgent messages go through.
A note to readers: Have you started your own neighborhood group and have tips you’d like to share? Would you like to create a neighborhood but have specific questions you’d like to ask before doing so? Please post both below in the comments area.
Groups Community Manager