We, like you, have grown disillusioned and disheartened by the tone of so many comments hurled back and forth below our stories at the ThePhoto-News.com. We want to improve the tone and quality of the conversation.
Many news sites are grappling with the problem of people expressing themselves, and saying things online, in a way they never would face to face. Many, like Reuters, The Chicago Sun-Times, Popular Science, The Week and Bloomberg have cut out all commenting below stories. Others have forced the discussion onto Facebook. Still others have started to charge a fee for commenting.
These attempts to get rid of the few people who are debasing the conversation seem to surrender what is at the heart of community news gathering. We want our websites to be a place where people in the community can speak with one another without a moderator or editor “in between” the discussion.
'Readers need and deserve a voice'
And we want our websites to continue to be a place where people feel free anonymously to tell us what they know, provide us information or help us along with the reporting of a particular story.
“You see site after site killing comments and moving away from community—that’s a monumental mistake,” The Guardian’s executive editor of digital, Aron Pilhofer, said at a conference last week. “Readers need and deserve a voice. They should be a core part of your journalism.”
Comments, as a whole, don’t sell more newspapers. Our papers are mailed for free to readers to people in specific zip codes. And comments below stories don’t help us sell more advertising.
Yet allowing discussion to occur between people in town is a public service we believe a community newspaper ought to provide.
Even if it’s a burden, even if it’s hard and even if it’s imperfect.
We have a small staff. The same editor, Bob Quinn, who puts out the print publication each week reads the comments below stories. When he sees comments he feels are uncivil or uncalled for, he deletes them.
Some people asked that we hire someone specifically to read comments. We don’t have the means to hire another professional journalist. We need to use some technology that’s available and get more help from the community to improve the situation (notice I didn’t say solve the problem).
We know that people in town have strong feelings and are deeply divided about annexation, the movie theater and local elections. We still believe, however, that Monroe is a town filled with people who are good and honest.
We don’t believe that the tone and tenor of remarks online accurately reflect the tone and tenor of the majority of people who live in the community, but rather the extreme expressions of a few (less than 200 individuals).
Starting this weekThis week we will begin requiring that people who comment below stories at ThePhoto-News.com have legitimate email addresses. Commenters will need to respond to an automatically generated message sent to their email to authenticate the address before they can post.
Comments written by people without authenticated addresses will no longer appear.
What this means is that we’re requiring one more step in the process. We don’t expect this change will “clean up the streets” for good, but we do hope it encourages people to be more civil in the way they express themselves. We’ll still allow users to post under pseudonyms but we hope the added step will add an element of accountability.
If you already have a Disqus account and are not verified, you can do so by going to disqus.com/verify.
In addition, we want to ask for your help. Most people with experience in this field believe, as the former head of the User Experience at the Guardian newspaper Martin Belam said “software design and features do influence community behaviors, but not as much as decent community management and personal engagement from journalists does.”
If you see a comment you think we’ve missed, and should take down, call us. We’re here Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 845-469-9000. Desiree is happy to take your call and get hold of the editor to take a look.
Journalism school professor Dan Gillmor said it best: “In the end, accountability is up to the site owner … comment threads are a platform you make available to others. The thread is your living room, where you’re hosting a conversation. You invite people into your home, and you make the rules on how they should behave.”
We hope you’ll help us restore civility in our living room.
Jeanne StrausPresident and publisher