The Park Record editorial, December 31, 2011-January 3, 2012
December 29, 2011
The Park Record will begin 2012 with a new comment board on its website. The switch has been in the works for several months and we are hoping the change will elevate the level of discussion previously conducted through Topix.
Like hundreds of newspaper owners, publishers and editors around the country, we willingly embraced the emerging social media technology that allowed us to provide an easily accessible platform for reader input on every news story we posted on our website. When The Record implemented Topix in 2008, we had high hopes that it would represent the epitome of free speech and lead to greater reader engagement along with a rich exchange of fresh ideas and perspectives.
Instead, for the most part, the forum steadily degenerated into a disappointing collection of racist comments, personal attacks and misinformation. Over time, most of the constructive commenters abandoned the Topix board, leaving only an angry mob at the helm.
In 2010 we broached the issue with peers in the industry, who encouraged us to accept the new realities of interactive media and to allow the public to police itself. So we waited, uncomfortably, and took our shots along with those aimed at so many other individuals in the community.
But as time wore on we found it increasingly difficult to defend that stand. Apparently other journalists did also and, over the last two years, we have participated in many discussions about alternative ways to allow online commenting with varying degrees of oversight.
We also conducted an independent study of the number and types of comments we received per week and found, as we feared, that the threads attracting the most comments usually consisted of two or three anonymous individuals hurling vulgar and libelous insults at each other, regardless of the topic at hand.
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So, after lots of research and experimentation, we have chosen the service Disqus (pronounced Discuss) and, for the time being, we are applying the highest oversight level offered. Readers will find that they can easily post comments on an article using their existing Facebook and Twitter accounts but will need to register if they want to post anonymously through Disqus. Like Topix, they will still be able to post under assumed names but those name will be registered to specific, verifiable email accounts. And, as an administrator of the site, The Park Record will have access to those email addresses.
As on Topix, readers can still flag offensive posts, which we hope will be fewer in number and, if necessary, we will be able to screen comments before they become visible on the site. Disqus also gives The Park Record the ability to ban specific users who abuse our guidelines.
We aren’t as naïve as we were in 2008. Some persistent commenters with axes to grind and offensive ideologies still will find ways to post unacceptable comments. Hopefully, though, The Record will be able to remove them more quickly and effectively than before.
Call us hopeless optimists, but we are not ready to try to put the genie back in the bottle and hope that by starting a new comment board with the new year we can still generate the kind of thoughtful, constructive, open dialog that we dreamed of in 2008. With any luck, local citizens will return to The Record’s comment board to make suggestions, add insights to news articles and editorials that we missed, and correct us, politely, when we err.
As always, we are interested in your input. Please try the new commenting system or send us an email or letter to the editor. Or pick up the phone and call.
–Andy Bernhard, publisher, firstname.lastname@example.org
–Nan Chalat Noaker, editor, email@example.com