The Island has a new comment policy
In the newspaper world I came from, the rules were obvious: People could offer their take on what was reported by submitting a letter to the editor. The letters were edited for space, relevance and clarity and published, sometimes a week or more after the news the letter writer was commenting on. But in the brave new world of the Web, expectations are different.
Here, I can offer readers the opportunity to chat with each other and with me on events of the day – an opportunity that dead trees just don’t provide. But that opportunity is a dual-edged sword. At a newspaper, people expect that their letters will be edited if they are published at all, and that they are required to own the words they write by signing their name at the bottom. On the Web, some believe it’s their right to say whatever they want – and that they shouldn’t be held to that same level of accountability.
For the last few years I have tried to walk a middle way on comments, pulling or editing comments I felt were libelous, personal attacks, trolling or just in poor taste instead of publishing everything that came in, but allowing people to write comments using screen names. I did this hoping that I could maintain open, honest discussions on the stories and columns I ran – and also maintain, frankly, the traffic that comments provide. Some readers said I should take a lighter hand with comments while others suggested I get rid of them entirely, running a more newspaper-style letters section. And then Friday happened.
Scanning the comments late Friday afternoon I noticed a missive from Richard, claiming he had heard that a mayoral candidate was dropping out the race. Frantically, I dialed the candidate, then his campaign manager, both of whom quickly assured me this wasn’t true. I was in a place I find myself all too often when comments are concerned: Should I publish it with a comment of my own containing the correct information, or drop it entirely?
Ultimately, I think our mission here at The Island is to offer the most accurate information possible, and to be as accountable as possible to you, the reader. And I feel we have gotten to a point where some of the things that have been published in our comments section run counter to our effort to do that. So effective today, The Island has a new comment policy: We will no longer publish comments that aren’t offered with a full name and valid e-mail address. Starting Monday, we will no longer publish comments by people who have not registered with the site (so go ahead and get that out of the way now).
I understand some of you will be frustrated with the new rules, and that they will have an impact on traffic. But I think the quality of the information The Island provides is more important than the number of hits we get. I’m also hopeful that requiring people to use their real names to comment on the site will remind everyone that they are talking to their friends and neighbors, and not some anonymous avatar, and that this will impact the tone of some of the discussions that take place here.
Meanwhile, if you have a tip to share, you can pass it along the old fashioned way, either by calling me at 910-7785 or e-mailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And as always, thank you for reading.