A story for every victim

From memories to vengeful rants, do Homicide Report comments have value?

Last week, in a post on The Atlantic, Brendan I. Koerner asked readers to consider the purpose of comments here on the Homicide Report, which he generously called one of his "favorite online experiments."

Koerner, a contributing editor for Wired, noted that although most remarks left on this report share memories of loved ones, others evolve into vengeful rants, some going as far as saying the deceased essentially got what he or she deserved.

"The question, then," he said, "is what role public expressions of the revenge impulse can play in these dramas."

The Atlantic posed this question: "can forums like the Homicide Report's comments sections help people cope with their powerful emotions, which often include a sincere wish for violence to be met with violence? Or does publicly airing one's basest (albeit understandable) impulses inevitably cause the revenge cycle to spiral out of control?"

One Atlantic reader responded: "Why on earth do they even allow comments for these articles? Are they hoping the killer will confess? Are they looking for tips from potential (but frightened) witnesses? I would hope that gloating over someone's death in a misguided public forum does not lead to the revenge cycle spinning out of control, but I agree with you that it might."

Another said "Without comments, the blog seems like it could be viewed in a very voyeuristic context - detached from the reality of peoples' deaths, like a sociological databank or snippets of a soap opera. I bet the comments from friends and relatives of the deceased cut through that clinical tone very quickly, and I think that's a good thing."

Many times, comments submitted to Homicide Report tread a very fine line. The Homicide Report often weighs the potential to offend or inflame against the ability of comments, often raw, to illuminate or explain the circumstances leading up to the killing.

As frequent readers know -- as a number of you have had comments blocked on occasion -- all comments published on the Homicide Report are moderated. Since the site relaunched in January as an interactive map/database/blog more than 7,000 comments have been approved and another 1,200 blocked for a number of reasons.

The Times often, but not always, will do additional reporting before publishing comments that include allegations about past criminal acts, references to suspects or the circumstances of the crime. We also, on occasion, take down previously approved comments or add a response upon learning more about the case or person at issue.

Our intent with the comments section is to create a dialogue for readers about homicide victims, as well as develop a further discussion on the communities in which these killings occur.

What do you think of the Homicide Report's practice of allowing comments?

-- Sarah Ardalani and Megan Garvey

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