A public forum on changing the New Haven Register’s online story comment policy will be held at 6 p.m. tonight (Nov. 3) at the New Haven Public Library, 133 Elm St.
For a few months, a group of staff at the newspaper led by Metro Editor Ed Stannard have been working on the draft of new guidelines for what kind of comments should not be allowed on NHRegister.Com. Last week, Managing Editor Mark Brackenbury announced that the newspaper would be switching to a system in which staff will review comments before they’re posted rather than after the fact.
Mark’s column generated a huge response – 274 comments were made at last check, including a great deal of back-and-forth discussion between readers, Mark and me.
Recurring themes in those comments included:
* Screening comments beforehand (or at all?) is censorship, and the Register already is too heavy-handed in removing comments that have been posted.
* The Register’s editors do or will allow their personal political beliefs to influence what comments they allow or delete.
* The Register is kowtowing to public officials who don’t like to be criticized.
* This is all about how liberal staff at the Register are and it’s all designed to silent conservative voices. There were about 100 variations of this comment: “EVERYONE knows this is being done to justify screening out all messages except those from bleeding-heart anarchist liberals.”
* The site should require “registration” instead, and use that to better screen or improve commenting, while continuing to allow comments to go up without prior screening.
* Anonymity is the problem, and the Register should require registration with verified name, address, phone number – real identity.
* Some have stopped commenting because of the toxic environment and would welcome the new system because they’ll feel safe again to participate in the discussion.
* People need a thicker skin … if you think a comment is offensive, just ignore it.
* The new system is necessary because the site has been taken hostage by a small group of “trolls” that post racist, hateful and offensive comments, dragging the discussion into a back-and-forth about it instead of a real discussion of the issue.
* Race is at the heart of most of the offensive comments on the site, and a great deal of the cries of “censorship” from some readers. Stories about crime in New Haven continually have racist and offensive comments made.
There’s lots to be said and discussed about all of these points. I’m expecting tonight’s discussion to raise additional points. When we made a similar switch in Torrington, we held a public forum and the people who showed up in person to comment took a completely opposite view of those who were commenting about the new policy anonymously on the web.