Newspapers have always had an interest in feedback from their readers. The primary source for this feedback, Letters to the Editor, has had a prominent place in newspapers for more than a century.
In the past decade, communication between a news organization and its audience has changed dramatically due to the growth of the Web. Various forms of online comments, message boards, user surveys, chats and forums have become standard tools on news and information websites around the world.
What hasnt changed is the audiences desire to be informed, educated, challenged and enlightened by the words and images we publish. Readers trust us to offer this experience for them on our website. DeseretNews.com offers the ability to contribute to and read user comments on stories we publish, and we are adding quick polls on many of our stories in order to enhance the dialogue with you.
Weve heard from many of you that the quality and tenor of online comments contributes to your overall perceptions about our news product. You have also told us that the small portion of our audience that reads and contributes comments could be larger if the quality of comments improved.
This past week, one of our readers sent us a Letter to the Editor making this very point. She argues that, particularly on divisive topics, the tenor of the discussion devolves into the most insensitive, crass, horrible comments. We concur and emphasize that such comments come from both sides of most issues. More than 100 readers responded to this letter with online comments of their own. Some of these comments have been respectful and offer well-reasoned arguments disputing or supporting the letter, while other comments simply reflect a lack of civility, respect and constructive reasoning. In essence, their very negativity validates the original concern.
Of course, were not alone in dealing with the challenges of online comments. Our sister companys site, ksl.com, has made numerous enhancements to its comment boards but has elected to suspend them temporarily because of the lack of civility too often evident there.
Other sites, from those of traditional news organizations like the New York Times, CNN and the Wall Street Journal to online-only publications like Huffington Post, Town Hall and AOL, have offered various forms of user-contributed comments and have altered their rules and processes repeatedly in an effort to improve the quality and tenor of discussion and to encourage more people to participate. You can read a variety of these examples in the links provided with this story.
At DeseretNews.com, we have elected to make a few changes that will roll out today.
First, we are eliminating the comment rotator across the site and the partial comment feed showing up at the bottom of every story. We want all readers to be able to clearly distinguish between our stories and reader comments. Comment boards will be available, but a user will have to opt in by clicking on the comments button.
Second, we are requiring every user account to include a real name and location (identified by postal code in the U.S. and by city and country outside the U.S.). Although we will still allow screen or display names, we encourage people setting up new accounts to use a form of their real names when they create display names. Other sites like The Wall Street Journal have implemented a real name verification system. We aren't doing that at this point, but it gives you a sense of how much other sites care about this issue.
Third, as a test we will be limiting one person's comments to only two per story. Remember that the DeseretNews.com comment board is not meant to be an instant messenger service. Think of it more as a public forum with thousands of participants. You should treat other readers as you would if you were speaking to them from a microphone, looking them in the eyes, then passing the microphone cordially to the next contributor. We hope this will encourage contributors to make points clearly, succinctly and politely.
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Fourth, we are changing our comment standards to further emphasize civility. We moderate all comments before they are published, and we will be more selective going forward. Youll notice this gradually over the coming weeks. Additional details are available at http://www.deseretnews.com/site/comments.
As is to be expected with the Web, we will likely continue to make changes in our comment boards in the future.
Wed like your feedback on these changes, and wed like you to suggest other ways we can make deseretnews.com better for our readers. Take a few seconds to answer the poll questions adjacent to this article. If you have more time, take advantage of our comment boards and share your ideas. Agree or disagree with a topic, but just remember to be civil.
The DeseretNews.com team