Scott Stanford: Newspaper makes right call on online comments

Advertisement

By the numbers

Total number of comments posted on SteamboatToday.com

■ 2012: 9,903

■ 2011: 16,788

■ 2010: 17,460

■ 2009: 17,345

■ 2008: 28,561

■ 2007: 20,737

Scott Stanford

Scott Stanford is general manager of the Steamboat Pilot & Today. Call him at 970-871-4202 or email sstanford@SteamboatToday.com

— “This policy will fail. It is beyond naive and stupid to think it will work.”

— Scott Wedel on Feb. 20, 2012, commenting on the newspaper’s decision to eliminate anonymous comments on SteamboatToday.com.

It has been 11 months since Steamboat Today stopped allowing anonymous comments on SteamboatToday.com.

Scott Wedel isn’t a fan. “In terms of the tone, it’s completely unchanged,” Wedel told me last week. “And we have lost some really good commenters.”

Wedel works in property management in Steamboat Springs and has lived in the Yampa Valley for 20 years. But he perhaps is known best for his frequent comments on our website. Of the 7,800 comments posted to our site since we implemented the names policy, 800 — more than 10 percent — have come from Wedel.

We implemented our new policy Feb. 20, 2012. I analyzed the policy’s impacts in response to an inquiry from an editor at another newspaper whose site still allows anonymous comments. The editor is growing weary of policing anonymous posts and debating anonymous individuals who get upset when their comments are deleted. He’s researching alternative approaches and wanted to know how we were doing.

My overall impression is the policy has been a major success. Initially, I was a skeptic. I worried we would lose significant traffic. Give credit to Editor Brent Boyer, who had faith that most readers would appreciate and embrace a comments section where a real name was attached to every post.

Turns out, Brent was right. Today, the comments section has more credibility than ever before. Posters are accountable for what they say. Complaints are infrequent, and the site is much easier to moderate.

Of course, one reason it’s easier to moderate is that we get a lot fewer comments. Comments are down more than 50 percent since the new policy was implemented. From 2009 through 2011, we averaged 47 comments per day. Since Feb. 20, 2012, we have averaged 23. The decline wasn’t unanticipated. In 2009, when we went to a policy of verifying identities before allowing users to post anonymously, we saw a 40 percent drop in comments.

But it should be noted that comments account for just a fraction of overall traffic on our site. Last year, visits to SteamboatToday.com rose 11 percent to an all-time high of 10,212 per day, while pageviews rose slightly. Advertising revenue on SteamboatToday.com rose 22 percent from 2011 to 2012.

Such numbers don’t impress Wedel, who thinks our online comments still include too many personal attacks. He said that such attacks and the lack of anonymity discourage many from contributing to the forum and that a better approach would be a more rigorously moderated site that allowed anonymity. “It’s still not a place for the gentle spirit,” he said.

Why, then, does Wedel contribute to the site so frequently? “The forum is for those prepared to fight,” Wedel said. “I am willing to step into the brawl because I think I can win most of the battles of insults.”

Besides, he told me, “I’ve long been noted as a person who doesn’t give a damn what other people think of me.”

I think Wedel is interesting and that his contributions to the website, often critical of the newspaper, have value and frequently spark further discussion. But I disagree with him about the tone. While there still are pointed exchanges between individuals in the comments section, there can be no debating that the level of respect has gone way up since we started requiring names.

Most newspaper websites still allow anonymous comments, but I have yet to meet a publisher or editor who really likes the practice. Fear of losing audience holds many back, but hopefully the tide is starting to shift. As our newspaper and others have shown, trading quantity for quality is a trade worth making when it comes to reader comments.

Scott Stanford is general manager of the Steamboat Pilot & Today. Call him at 970-871-4202 or email sstanford@SteamboatToday.com.

Comments

mark hartless 1 year, 11 months ago

If one values diversity of opinion it has been a complete failure.

If one wished for a softer tone they are still wishing.

If anyone is happy it's those who didn't want their actions commented on by more than just a very few people; few enough to dismiss as "malcontents" and "loudmouths". (guilty as charged)

We've lost a lot of commentors whose contributions were often funny, apt, politically diverse, and insightful.

In no way, shape or form has the change been for the better.

The winners here?

Those who wish to operate within as dim a light as possible.

1

Scott Wedel 1 year, 11 months ago

Oh well, I suppose an editorial on the forums should be like the forums in that there is typically only the most superficial consideration of opposing viewpoints. My central criticism that Scott Stanford and I discussed at length is that the change from semi-anonymous to named has had NO IMPACT UPON THE HARSH TONE of the forums. Instead the editorial does not even mention that paper went from anonymous, to semi-anonymous (known to paper, but not the public) to named comments. The change 11 months ago was from semi-anonymous to named comments. Instead, the editorial compare's the Pilot's current policy of named comments to the issues at another paper's truly anonymous comments. So the editorial's entire premise is a false comparison.

The point I made numerous times when Scott Stanford and I talked this week is that going to semi-anonymous was a big improvement over the previous purely anonymous posting. It was crazy the sort of stuff being posted when it was purely anonymous. And thus, a paper with truly anonymous comments should be expected to have issues.

But what happened 11 months ago on the Pilot's forums was to go from semi-anonymous to named comments. That change of policy has failed. There is no difference in tone since the change from semi-anonymous to requiring actual name. The tone of these forums still all too often degenerates into petty nastiness. This policy change has not improved the tone, but it has cost us the contributions of several interesting commentators..

What these forums really need is once or twice a day is removing those posts that violate the site's TOS. Paper could send a helpful email saying what is the objectionable passage and say if that is removed then the message will be allowed to stand. People here would learn soon enough that bad manners had some consequences.

0

Scott Wedel 1 year, 11 months ago

I think most of my comments have been taken out of context because I was talking about the change from semi-anonymous where the real name of the commenter was known to the newspaper to comments requiring a person's real name. But the editorial is written as if I was commenting on a change from anonymous to requiring real name. This paper never made such a change.

For example:

— Scott Wedel on Feb. 20, 2012, commenting on the newspaper’s decision to eliminate anonymous comments on SteamboatToday.com.

It has been 11 months since Steamboat Today stopped allowing anonymous comments on SteamboatToday.com.


Both of those statements are clearly false and misleading. The paper on 2/20/2012 did not eliminate anonymous comments because at the time, the real name of every commenter was known to the newspaper.

It is pretty bad to directly quote me by name and then state that my comments were about a change that had occurred 3 years earlier.

This editorial needs a correction.

0

max huppert 1 year, 11 months ago

I agree with the Pilot, I got my name and pic. I am glad all those shadow people are gone, they didnt have much to say anyway. Scott ,,,, keep the people in the light.

0

Scott Wedel 1 year, 11 months ago

"From 2009 through 2011, we averaged 47 comments per day. Since Feb. 20, 2012, we have averaged 23."

So the change from semi-anonymous (known to the paper) to real named comments cut the number of comments in half. Go back to a story between 2009 and Fed 2012, are really half of the comments noticeably worse than the comments today? I don't think so.

The newspaper says it is growing and yet the number of comments have been halved. I think the facts justifies my comments at the time that this change will be a failure. The paper's own facts state that the change has decimated the online forums. One of the paper's stated objectives at the time which was to improve the tone of the forums and thus be more inviting to more people has completely failed. Instead of attracting people to the forums, the change from semi-anonymous has driven people away.

Remember we are not talking about the bad old days of anonymous posts which was bad. We are talking about changing from semi-anonymous, known to the newspaper, to real names. The problem with semi-anonymous was never the veneer of anonymity, but the personal attacks the paper never removed. Go back and read something in 2011 and there is no great difference between the named and unnamed posts.

For that we silenced MrTaiChi and others. Policy has been the definition of a failure.

0

David Moore 1 year, 11 months ago

I have always been an advocate of owning up to what you say; don't have anything nice to say, don't say it at all. I feel fortunate to be able to come to a newspaper close to home and be able to voice my opinion using my real name, feel fortunate you have this ability for free.

I have a sneaky suspicion which paper Mr. Stanford is talking about when he says, "I analyzed the policy’s impacts in response to an inquiry from an editor at another newspaper whose site still allows anonymous comments. The editor is growing weary of policing anonymous posts and debating anonymous individuals who get upset when their comments are deleted. He’s researching alternative approaches and wanted to know how we were doing." I believe this may be our very own local newspaper here in Craig, the Craig Daily Press, that decided to start charging for its online content, including the online forum. You think you have lost commentors; we go days and days between posts because you cannot comment on anything without paying for it. I would rather go to a forum where you have to use your real name, for free, than pay to speak my mind....with my name or anonymously. If I am wrong, my bad, however it would not surprise me if it was the CDP making another move to promote their "product". I applaud the Pilot and Today for taking the right steps and making those commenting use their real names, it is only the right thing to do. I have followed this paper for many years and have been on the forum off and on - there were some mean, vicious, high and mighty people commenting on here. I had enough and decided it was not worth it yet I often wonder how many other commentors were lost in that same manner. Hiding behind an anonymous user name and spewing forth some of the nasty comments I have seen here over the years is, well, I can't say it here, but it has to do with chickens. .

0

Fred Duckels 1 year, 11 months ago

Those such as our president who are in power, work to enforce civility and dissent on their terms. Opposing views are eradicated and those of status quo become champions of civility. Often venting allows contributors to work through matters. Another factor might possibly be the expense of monitoring frequent loose cannons..

0

David Moore 1 year, 11 months ago

If those who vent often would remain civil and work through matters instead of name calling, making threats and several other forms of anonymous communication that I have seen here, we would not need to identify ourselves. It's called being an adult. Hiding behind a user name and making irrational comments or threats, is not, that is childish and immature. Rules are made for those who break the rules, not for those who follow them.

0

Scott Wedel 1 year, 11 months ago

But the problem then and remains now is that named comments will contain name calling, threats and other forms of personal attacks. The problem is what people will post whether named or not.

It is like a conversation in a bar. It can degenerate into name calling and so on whether it is between friends or strangers. What controls that behavior is the person that tells them to behave better or leave. No one expects that formally introducing everyone so that everyone knows everyone's real name will stop an argument. Well, no one, except this newspaper..

A bar and a bookstore both allow the general public inside. A bookstore is more likely to have a more civil discussion because that is the expected conduct and those that cannot have good manners are quickly asked to leave.

0

Scott Wedel 1 year, 11 months ago

The big picture view is that an idea should be considered on its merits Thus, requiring the person's name does not improve an idea.

The problem with truly anonymous comments is that a few can continually post lies and malicious allegations. If one alias is deleted then the malicious person can just post under a different alias.

The SB paper solved that problem by requiring a validated alias that eliminated the malicious few. The forums still had a problem of a harsh tone and personal attacks. That sort of conduct, not allowed by the terms of service, was present in named and unnamed comments.

11 months ag the papers inaccurately and unfairly blamed the negative tone on those whose identities were known to the paper, but not the public, and thus banned them. That has had, at best, a modest effect upon the negative tone of these forums. But it has cut the number of posts in half. That is the very definition of a failed policy.

The problem 11 months that still remains are the posts that violate the terms of service and include personal attacks. The obvious simple solution that is commonly used at other sites is to remove posts Because the person is registered then the offensive material cannot be repeatedly posted under various aliases. If the person reposts from their registered account then the account can be suspended. Thus, deleting posts works on maintaining the tone, particularly if the site is consistent about enforcing it's rules.

0

David Moore 1 year, 11 months ago

Wow, with all due respect, and I post this with my name glaring at you so that I can own up to what I say....you have an issue with just about everything imaginable. You garner 10% (50% of this thread alone) of what is put on this forum. Are you just that unhappy with life? Move on dude, really, is there anything positive in your life? Just trying to be honest here, I call it like I see it.

0

Scott Wedel 1 year, 11 months ago

David Moore,

And so it goes, instead of commenting upon ideas or suggestions, you decide to attack my personal life.

Well, I suppose thanks of demonstrating my point that people are willing to post personal attacks even with their name attached to their comments.

0

David Moore 1 year, 11 months ago

No attack, just pointing out the obvious, which seems that this forum IS your personal life. Sorry you took it wrong, my apologies for being honest.

0

jerry carlton 1 year, 11 months ago

David Deal with Scott Wedel as I do and only respond when he becomes exceptionally irritating. I would say that I respond to about 1 of 100 of Scotts posts.

0

David Moore 1 year, 11 months ago

Thank you Mr. Carlton, advice well taken. I have been an observer, and occasional commentor on this forum for many, many years, remember "pilotwatch/averagejoe/....whatever else he came up with to spew vile viciousness"? Those type of people are why this forum needs to be the way it is, keeps it civil and respectful. I was just pointing out the obvious to Mr. Wedel, which is in black and white in the article above. My point is deal with it, move on and stop being a whiner. Nothing close to a personal attack, just pure honesty. Have a nice night.

0

Scott Wedel 1 year, 11 months ago

David,

So speculation counts as honesty? I can't wait to read what you think is obvious about Rhys Jones, Mark Hartless, Tom Willman and Brian Kotowski.

And then everyone can speculate about you.

And we further prove that the problem was always what people were willing to say that could be attributed to them and that real names with post is no better than real names known to the newspaper.

0

David Moore 1 year, 11 months ago

Speculate away, I have nothing to hide. I enjoy the posts from all those you mention, they seem to be pretty straightforward kind of people......without dominating every single thread. Don't go getting yourself all worked up now Mr. Wedel, learn to take some criticism, you certainly dish enough of it out. You go right ahead and spend your time posting to your hearts content, but do go out for some air every now and then, clears your brain. I don't want to become unpopular here because I brought up a point I am sure many others see everyday, I have made my opinion and now i turn the forum back over to you.

1

mark hartless 1 year, 11 months ago

You hear that Rhys, et al??

He called us "pretty strait forward people".

I guess we fooled him, no???

0

John Fielding 1 year, 11 months ago

I miss Yampa Valley Boy, Seeuski, and especially Mr. Tai Chi.

Scott's most memorable comment was at the time of the policy change when he declared he would never post on this forum again. I was tempted to see if I could hold my breath till he reconsidered.

0

john bailey 1 year, 11 months ago

kinda miss them too, john. hum, is the dating scene really that bad in the big city?

0

Scott Wedel 1 year, 11 months ago

David,

Thank you for continuing to demonstrate my point. You say you have nothing to hide and so you are willing to post. Well, having to meet that standard causes other people not to post.

It was you who went off topic and starting making personal comments. It is fair to say my ideas are wrong or ignore them, but speculating about or posting actual information about another's personal life is supposed to be off topic and not allowed.

Most sites ban people from commenting about the other people that post. This paper unfortunately routinely allows it even though I believe it is against the site's rules.

0

rhys jones 1 year, 11 months ago

Removing anonymity did little to prevent petty sniping, but it did squelch some interesting contributors. I think my stances in here have actually cost me jobs, but such is the price of notoriety. If one is judged by the company they keep, then I have attained some lofty heights. I don't know whether to be flattered or offended. No disrespect to my worthy list-mates. Even bad press is better than no press, and I sure like to keep 'em talking.

1

cindy constantine 1 year, 11 months ago

Frankly, I too miss the anon contributors. Now I feel like I am tuning in to the "Scott Wedel Show" and I am over it. I don't even read his comments any more because while they may contain some good information they are really just a lot of "show boating". Hey, Scott, since you are a walking/talking search engine, I think you should get paid by the paper for a weekly column entitled "All Things Steamboat and other interesting Tid Bits". You can fill the role of the investigative reporter that we all think is needed at the paper. Quit "hogging the blog" and get a life in the out of doors!

1

rhys jones 1 year, 11 months ago

Cindy -- How right you are. I myself got caught in the forum trap, hanging on every reply and even running to Google on occasion, to support my point... software development is a lonely pursuit... then I found a REAL job, got a REAL life again, have a day off, and will be doing turns today. Activity. Interaction. Commerce. All welcome changes. These forums are largely attended by people with WAY too much time on their hands. And you are right in that, if I don't read Scott's voluminous contributions -- whether I agree with them or not -- I have a lot more time for my own life.

John -- Yes. The world is a stage, and I am a minor celebrity, playing my bit part for all it's worth. Some people seek greatness, while others have it thrust upon them. I missed those callings, which is not to say Barack shouldn't be calling ME for advice. ( i hope you can recognize my tongue in cheek, "facetious" often flies as reality hereabouts)

0

rhys jones 1 year, 11 months ago

See, this is EXACTLY the deep thinking I am trying to avoid. Just cut me. Do I not bleed? And if a comment gets thought out, researched, typed down, edited, and submitted -- yet nobody ever reads it -- did that thought really exist?

0

john bailey 1 year, 11 months ago

a spade is a spade, for sure, ..........Tom cut that back by 54 words and its perfect,(wink emo)

0

Brian Kotowski 1 year, 11 months ago

Overall I think it's an improvement. Not by a large margin, but an improvement nonetheless. I agree with observations about the Scott Wedel show, and now ignore all of Scott's musings (editor: how about an "ignore" option along with the 'suggest removal' & 'edit' buttons?).

The absence of this kind of tripe is what has tilted the scales in favor of the new policy (for me): http://www.steamboattoday.com/users/Sep/comments/?page=22&#c106880

0

Melanie Turek 1 year, 11 months ago

Why is everyone harshing on Scott W.? I don't agree with everything he says, but he does his research, and his comments are well reasoned and thoughtful. Who cares if he posts a lot? If you don't want to read him, maybe YOU should get off the blog and go outside. And for those of you missing YVB, he's right here, quotation-mark happy as ever. Feed the birds, and cheers!

0

Scott Wedel 1 year, 11 months ago

Originally allowing true anonymity where malicious people couldn't be stopped because they would just use another alias was bad.

Requiring people to register and allowed to use a pseudonym was better. There was still a problem of too often going off topic and making negative personal comments. That was a problem of both real name and pseudonym comments.

Requiring people to register and post under their real names was better than allowing anonymous comments, but no better that allowing people to post under pseudonyms.

I think the by far biggest issue facing these forums has been the lack of enforcement of the site's rules barring personal criticism of those that post. I am often told by people that they would never post because they don't want to worry about what will then be said about them. A person expressing their ideas should only worry about their ideas being criticized, not their personal life. Paper's mistake has been to not enforce that when pseudonyms were allowed and to still not enforce it.

Tom Willman's criticism of the lengths of my posts is valid. David Moore's speculation on my personal life is not. Anyone capable of working at the paper should be able to generally discern the difference and it is okay to error on the side of removal as long as the removed post is emailed to the poster so the offending part can be removed and posted again.

0

Scott Wedel 1 year, 11 months ago

Tom,

It was "valid criticism" in terms of expressing analytical thinking of the content of my posts. I am not necessarily saying I agree with you.

I think there should be tighter oversight of a minimal standard of conduct of not crossing a bright line of personal criticism. There is a big difference between talking about a person's ideas and talking about the person.

I think personal criticism scares off too many potentially interesting commentators. For instance, no politician or government official can expect to post without generating a stack of responses beating on them and government. We have all too often seen a business owner comment on a topic only to have their business roundly criticized. We have all too often seen a young person's naive comments result in insults of the person's lack of education, writing and thinking skills. Allowing that sort of conduct chases people away.

If these forums are to flourish then they need to offer commentators a better and consistent level of protection against personal criticism while retaining the freedom to express ideas including criticizing the ideas of others.

1

Scott Stanford 1 year, 11 months ago

All:

I spoke with Scott Wedel yesterday. He wanted to clarify that he in no way defended our policy, prior to 2009, when we allowed anyone who provided us with an email address to comment anonymously on the site. In 2009, we went to a policy of verifying identities before allowing users to then post under a pseudonym. Scott Wedel felt this policy went far enough. He opposed going from that policy to our current one in which all comments appear with names attached. Scott is correct in his assessment and I apologize if the column was not clear on that point.

We try to police the comments section for inappropriate posts. If you are bothered by a post or feel it is inappropriate, do us a favor and click on the "Suggest Removal" link. This method of flagging comments helps us to address inappropriate posts quickly and efficiently.

Thanks to you all for all participating in our forum. I recognize that there are other forums you could choose which may have different or perhaps more inviting policies and approaches. I appreciate that you read our newspaper and contribute to the discussion.

Scott Stanford General Manager sstanford@SteamboatToday.com 970-871-4202

0

Scott Wedel 1 year, 11 months ago

The question was never about what I and others do on other forums.

The question was whether this forum improved by barring the users whom had registered with the newspaper with their real names, but were posting under a pseudonym.

The paper's answer appears to be "yes, because we don't want to admit making a mistake" since the facts they present are not signs of success.

The more objective answer from their own data is that it has been a failure that cut posting in half when most sites have seen increases in such activity. Paper does not claim there has been some great increase in the quality or diversity of the forums.

The change from no longer allowing truly anonymous comments where any spammer or malicious person could post caused a 40% reduction in posts. That is, incredibly, less than changing from requiring real names registered to requiring real name displayed.

I think requiring posting under real names has had such a severe impact is because the paper has long failed to limit negative comments about those that post. So people that do not wish to read hateful things about themselves simply do not post on these forums.

At the time of the change, the justification given for the change was the negative comments being made about other people and how requiring people to post under their real name would correct that. As I noted back then, the problem of negative comments was from named and unnamed people so blaming the unnamed people was neither fair or likely to solve the issue. The solution to the issue of negative personal comments is to consistently delete those comments and enforce a standard of conduct. Haphazardly deleting comments only if someone complains did not make these forums a friendly place likely to attract additional commentary.

0

rhys jones 1 year, 11 months ago

I know a person who registered under two names, just to see if they could. They could. So much for "real names."

The only things that have changed are that now the insults have names, and 40% fewer people participate. The same five-or-so people who apparently lead lives of leisure continue to browbeat and dominate these forums, insult and innuendo flying freely, (not you Scott) documented ad nauseum, repeating their mantras, saying the same things over and over, to where your gloves had best be laced up before you step into this ring.

Did I mention I have a real life now? These forums no longer represent my pitiful life, and thank GOD for that. You're swinging at air now.

0

kathy foos 1 year, 10 months ago

My View...you have managed to stifle the people in Routt County from speaking up.It's hard to express opinion and keep(or find a job).You all in "Our View "get paid to have your name exposed...not us.Does it seem strange to have shut up almost everyone?It's ugly and not the right thing to do,makes for a nice clean community image though.As far as saying "newspaper makes the right call ",I say your a legend in your own mind.

0

Requires free registration

Posting comments requires a free account and verification.