Saturday, July 14, 2012

Fraser Lewry, the digital Jeeves

Closing a magazine is one thing. Closing its accompanying web site is another, particularly one as dependent on its users as The Word blog. It would have been rude to have abruptly unplugged the jukebox, flicked on the strip lighting and ushered people towards the car park. Instead we gave the hard-core site users a couple of weeks to make alternative arrangements to move the community to a new site.

Many and tearful were the tributes to the oasis of civility which had been built here over the last few years. That garden has been tended 365 days a year, sometimes from distant tyrannies with indifferent internet access, by Fraser Lewry.

If you thought this job called for technical competence you'd be right. If you guessed that it would also suit somebody whose sense of duty didn't stop at normal office hours, you wouldn't be far off either.

What you probably underestimate is the saint-like reserves of patience it takes to run a web community, even one as generally polite as this. You only have to look at the comments on the Guardian site to see how the ownership of an internet connection has turned us into a nation of preening know-alls dispensing redundant advice at the scene of traffic accidents. There wasn't much of this on the Word site but there was some.

Every so often in the nether regions of some thread about Manic Street Preachers B-sides it would kick off. My natural instinct would be to charge in there shouting "you're barred", after the style of Al Murray. Not Fraser. Like Jeeves he was never far away. Like Jeeves he never did anything as vulgar as entering a room. Instead he would shimmer in, materialise or, when the occasion called for it, ooze.

He would keep an eye on each succeeding post - as he did every single word that was ever posted on the site - and then, judiciously picking his moment, intervene with a pithy post usually combining practical advice with, for those who had ears to hear, the distant whisper of consequences.

He rarely had to banish anyone because most regular visitors to the site had learned, as the rest of us in the office had learned, that you shouldn't get on the wrong side of Fraser. That's because the very few people who are on the wrong side of Fraser have one important thing in common. They're wrong.


  1. Very nice, always thought his contributions to the podcasts were excellent too. He didn't always say a lot, but what he did say was worth listening to. Shall miss his holiday and cooking escapades.

  2. I've been a part of various on-line communities since 1994, and I've been on the receiving end of many different styles of moderation. I've also moderated a few myself so I know how difficult, verging on impossible, it can be.

    In this regard Fraser is by far and away the best of his kind. The most even-handed. The most restrained. There must have been moments when his prevailing instinct was to wade in and bash heads together. He never did. Most flare-ups seemed to get resolved quietly with the bare minimum of drama.

    It's an intangible skill but an important one. Technical issues aside, the Word Blog would not have worked without Fraser. By keeping things civil he allowed the community to grow, as opposed to stagnating into one of those venomous cliques where the core posters put their feet up on the seats and cultivate a hostile environment that few outsiders would want any part of.

    There is another music magazine, who will remain nameless, where the forum membership drove the member of staff assigned to moderating the community off the boards. I was there. I watched it happen.

    The Word was one of the few publications that appeared to understand that a website is a reflection on the printed product. It is not a separate entity. Rather it is something that needs to be actively maintained by members of the staff.

    I’ve noticed there’s a pro-Fraser post on the Word blog so I’ll probably cut and paste this into that thread. I hope that he’s printing out all these positive comments and stapling them to his CV. He’s highly thought of in our soon-to-gone community. I have great respect for him as a human being and also in terms of what he achieved at The Word.

  3. Well said. As the recipient of a couple of well-moderated - er, moderations to my Word blog posts I was impressed with his tact, logic and gentle persuasion.

  4. Thanks David. I shall attach this to my CV.

    I think that the key to moderation is pretty simple: if people are behaving like children, the best thing you can do to do is remind them they're adults. It doesn't always apply, and it doesn't always work, but it's not a bad place to start.

  5. Excellent piece,David.Agree with every word.
    Thank You,Fraser doesn't do the man justice but every thank you is heartfelt and is given with a level of respect and admiration only given to the select few,A bit OTT for a blog moderator this may seem to some but he is/was THE Moderator par excellence.

  6. Excellent - possibly my favourite post-Word commentary so far. Good to see your powers of observation and summing up are not confined to the recently deceased!

  7. Speaking of alternative arrangements.

  8. Good work Fraser. I too have admired your restraint. Perhaps David you're encouraging the post-Word forum to employ the same approach.

  9. Totally agree, Fraser was an excellent moderator of an excellent forum. And I will miss the weekly link letter, too, which was Fraser's doing, too, I believe.

  10. First time in a while tonight went to my surprise.
    Gutted, as a one time nme obsessive, that my sole link to modern culture is now extant.
    The website was great, fraser's moderation ensured that no-one forgot themselves - bit like the pregnant silence when someone makes an arse of themselves at a dinner party.

    You all deserve great success, and more to the point what am i going to buy people for Christmas now ?
    i guess i should have done it more often = (

    Best wishes to you all.