A caller asked the other day why we put comments from our website in the paper without names attached, yet we insist on full names for Safety Valve letters.
It’s a good question, with an answer I’m not sure is satisfactory.
The online comments you see in the paper are reactions to poll questions on wenatcheeworld.com. We post three questions a week and publish the results and some selected responses to the questions in Tuesday’s paper.
Since we earlier required all our online commenters to use their real names those responses are not truly anonymous. But the names are not published in the paper because the names on the comments online are usually a screen name. To get to the person’s true name you need to click into their profile.
Doing that for each comment we print would be too cumbersome.
Plus, when people post those comments there is no expectation or guarantee it will ever appear in print, while Safety Valve writers almost always have their letters published. And the comments from the website we use are often only snippets of what was posted, whereas letters in the paper usually are published as submitted, as long as they are within the word limit.
Again, I’m not certain that is an entirely satisfactory explanation. We’re trying to provide something of interest to newspaper readers by publishing the results of our online polls. And the comments are selectively picked to represent, perhaps, some of the thinking behind the votes.
Previously, we were publishing online comments once a week that were in response to various stories in the paper. That, I thought, was closer to the unfairness implied by the caller, in that no names were published and the online commenters were not required to register under their real names.
Since requiring real names online we’ve had mixed success, I think. Some people still make up names but other commenters are usually quick to point them out, and then we have to advise the offenders of the rules.
There are fewer comments since the change but certain stories can generate a lot of reaction. Clearly, the same handful of people comment the most. That’s fine but it also creates a feel of them playing in their own sandbox, I think, making others less likely to participate.
While the current system is not ideal, it is a dramatic improvement over the free-for-all we enabled previously, where anonymous commenters would bring their worst to the discussions and constructive, civil dialogue had little chance.
Early this year we’ll be changing our entire online system, or content management system, as it’s called. That will come with some changes to the design of our website and likely more changes to the story commenting.
A lot of newspaper sites are connecting commenting to Facebook, where your comment comes through your Facebook feed. I think that’s an intriguing idea.
Not only is anonymity no longer an issue with Facebook but people there are also less likely to make inflammatory comments if all their Facebook “friends” can see what they’re posting.
It’s true Facebook doesn’t stop people from being who they are, and who they are can sometimes be unpleasant. But judging by the people who react to our stories on our own Facebook page, it’s a different, mostly civil tone.
So, the caller had a good point about real names vs. comments with no names attached but as long as we retain control over what is published in the paper and avoid printing personal attacks or comments that serve most to incite, we’ll stick with this. For now.