PHARES: Keeping things civil on Register's Web site

Sandusky Register publisher Two years ago we flipped the switch bringing
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

Sandusky Register publisher

Two years ago we flipped the switch bringing Sanduskyregister.com to life as a new, full-featured Web site serving you in this area. It worked. In that short time, it's gone from a little-used portal to a massive information clearinghouse about the region. Standing on its own, Sanduskyregister.com is used more than any other media in this area, except the Register itself. More people visit this site daily than listen to any radio station. More people interact on these pages than view any TV/cable channel. We're delighted. You liked it and found a place for it in your day.

Read more opinions, ours and yours

From the beginning, we had ideas on how to make our Web site different from our newspaper. You already had the newspaper; we didn't want to just serve up the same things in a different way. This is why the site offers more briefs than stories, includes hundreds of "unpublished" photos, has video stories and even live video events -- and stories as they develop, not just when they end. Most of what we've tried has worked. You've responded and wanted more.

That brings us to story comments, or "The Blogs" as they've come to be known. Our desire was to provide a place for the community to discuss a story, its implications and related facts. We researched sites in communities across the country and learned that the way to aid this exchange was to have a completely wide-open policy -- say what you want, we won't interfere.

The commenting took root and became a well-read part of our site, fostering more interaction. Soon, though, it started to go bad. Under the anonymity we championed, people started to post hateful, hurtful comments. We persevered. Our research told us a community of users will frequently run off the bad people. We tried to keep it cleaned up while fostering this sense of community policing.

During the past year we have tried different levels of active moderation by staff, engaging users to help and offering systems to point out nastiness so we could address it. We had taken the steps of blocking serial abusers -- but they figured out ways around it. We had taken the steps of shutting down the comments on lightning-rod topics involving race relations and some institutions. All the time, we hoped this experiment would succeed in bringing about a healthy exchange of views and ideas. But while those things did exist, racists or bigots spewing their filth frequently eclipsed them.

Sometime this week, the experiment ends. We are installing a registration system on our Web site that requires commenters to identify themselves in some small ways. It is not a perfect system, but it creates a hurdle for the haters and slows them down or drives them off. Time will tell.

In making this decision we've researched options and discussed them internally, sought and received community input and had the prodding of several community leaders. My thanks to the many of you who offered us your thoughts on this issue -- and there were many!

Sanduskyregister.com has become the place people go for breaking news, background information, sports scores and classified ads. We don't want you to miss the good parts of this great experiment because of the bad. Come check it out later this week. Tell us what you think.