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Speaking of comments, we’ve made another change

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Scott Angus
November 18, 2010

Why would people in Portland - as in Oregon - care about changes to gazettextraís policy on story comments?

Good question, but they apparently do. Or at least the folks at Portlandís public radio station, OPB, think they do.

Actually, Iíve been giving interviews left and right after I announced Nov. 7 that gazettextra.com would no longer allow comments on some types of stories. I wrote about the policy in my print column and my blog. Wisconsin Public Radio noticed the blog and interviewed me for a short story that aired Monday. The Associated Press picked up that story, and then it hit big. Radio and TV stations and websites from coast to coast have spent time on our policy and the bigger issue of Internet comments.

To be honest, Iím surprised. Weíre not the first newspaper to enact such a policy. In fact, we stole the idea from several others. We modified it to fit our needs, but itís far from original.

What the intense interest shows, I surmise, is that people have strong opinions about comments on the web, particularly attached to newspaper stories. I get that. Weíve allowed comments for three years, and weíve seen the attraction for commenters and lurkers and the disdain and disgust of people who think comments are inappropriate and generally vile.

As Iíve said before, we donít have all of the answers, but I think we need to try to figure this thing out. The web is all about conversations, and we want to be involved.

The policy that generated the interest eliminates comments on stories involving sex, race, crime, courts and accidents. That leaves many topics for discussion.

I wrote that the policy was the first in what I thought would be a series of steps intended to bring more civility to online discussions and make visiting our site a more pleasant experience for more users.

Weíre now taking a second step. Comments are no longer visible automatically. You must click a bar at the bottom of a story to see them.

While I sometimes wonder about the need to protect people from themselves, I think this is a reasonable approach to prevent people from seeing comments unless they really want to read them. More than a few folks have told me they donít like comments and would prefer not to read them, but they canít help themselves when the comments stare them in the face at the ends of stories.

Now, they have to take one more proactive step. Itís a small change for our site, but I think itís one more step in the right direction.



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