Love it or hate it, many Steamboat Pilot & Today readers can't resist the temptation of our online story comments. It never ceases to amaze me how often people talk about what so-and-so poster wrote beneath one of our online articles.
More often than not, I'm one of the haters of our current system. It encourages anonymous readers to say whatever they want about whomever they want, with little or no repercussion. Legitimate comments about relevant issues quickly get swept under by the torrent of off-subject or off-color rants. Often, the anonymous commenters turn their attention to one another, hurling insults back and forth with little understanding of the impact of their words or even whom they're directing them at.
The popularity of our Web site, no doubt fueled by the comment sections, presents a doubled-edged sword for the newspaper. On one hand, we've seen the number of "hits" to Steamboatpilot.com increase steadily and dramatically since August 2006, when we redesigned our site and added the ability for registered users to comment on stories or create their own threads. Like any organization, we constantly seek ways to expand the reach of our products and attract new audiences. The Internet is ground zero for such efforts.
On the other hand, the Steamboat Pilot & Today has a responsibility to uphold. Just like we must be held accountable for the articles we publish, we also must take stock of the content that we allow to be published through our reader forums. I think Steamboatpilot.com can and should serve as an avenue for thoughtful, responsible and intelligent discussion about the issues relevant to our readership. We've gotten off track when we hear from readers, sources and others who are afraid to talk to the newspaper or log on to its Web site because of the inflammatory, objectionable or simply inaccurate posts penned by anonymous commenters.
Today, I'm excited to announce changes to our Web site registration process that I think will dramatically improve the level of discourse on Steamboatpilot.com.
Beginning Aug. 4, all registered and new users of our Web site will be asked to update their account information to provide us the following:
- First and last names
- A valid daytime phone number where they can be reached
- Zip code
- Year of birth
Existing users will be able to post under their old pseudonyms if they check the box that reads "Hide my real name." Otherwise, posts will include the users' actual identities.
Once users complete the registration page, they will receive a telephone call from the Pilot & Today's Internet department to verify their information. Once that verification is complete, users will be sent an e-mail confirmation, and they will be allowed to post comments to our Web site. Any future changes to their account settings will postpone their ability to submit content until those changes have been verified by Pilot & Today staff.
We will make every effort to verify users as quickly as possible, and in most cases such verification should take place the same day the request is made.
So, how will these changes improve Steamboatpilot.com? First, I think revealing their real identity to the Steamboat Pilot & Today will give pause to posters before their fingers attack the keyboard. To be clear, posters can remain anonymous to the public, if they so choose. Second, posters who fail to obey the terms of our Reader Submitted Content Policy can and will be banned from the site and no longer will be able to quickly re-register using a different e-mail address.
We anticipate the amount of reader comments to drop come Aug. 4, but our hope is the number and quality of posts will steadily increase going forward.
We live in a highly educated, dynamic community in the midst of significant growth and change. I think our readers have many thoughtful things to say about the myriad issues taking place here and around the world. And I think the Pilot & Today has the responsibility and opportunity to provide a welcoming, respectful venue for such discourse. I'm pleased that we're taking a step in that direction.
If you have any questions or comments about our Web site or the changes in store, don't hesitate to contact me at 871-4221 or firstname.lastname@example.org.