Comments top wish list for changes

Mar 23, 2010

Well, when I asked the question, I knew I was going to hear a lot about the comments. Many of you don't like the vicious posts in our comments -- and neither do I.

The question is, what to do about it.

There's a lot of skepticism out there that required registration would actually help. It takes about 30 seconds to get a valid email, free, without any kind of identity verification. If someone is determined to be vicious, they don't have to work very hard to get around registration.

A pre-approval process would place all comments in a queue, pending Register staff approval before being publicly posted. That's proven to keep the nasty comments off a site ... because it keeps pretty much every comment off the site. And I don't think that's because of the instant gratification problem -- who wants to have a conversation with a time delay? It robs the comments of any sense of dialogue. That's what is different, and I think valuable, about the comments, as opposed to a letter to the editor. Comments are not just commentary on the news of the day, they're a conversation between community members. That kind of social capital is sorely lacking in today's society.

But I admit, much of that is destroyed by the current tenor of our comments. I'm as frustrated as you. We spot check the site and remove any comments that are over the line. We remove any that are flagged or that we get called about. We disable commenting on stories when it gets out of hand, block users when they go too far, too often, carefully watch stories we think might bring out the flamers, and we even disallow commenting on stories -- such as the NAACP story -- that we know are going to start out over the line. And none of that has worked. Honestly, I don't even get why we have this problem. Hasn't everyone been through kindergarten and learned that you don't treat people this way?

We monitor the situation but our priority is still to give people the freedom to express themselves. We make our livings by the freedom of speech; it's our default position; we have a hard time being the censors.

Interestingly, my understanding is that the law would see these comments as wholly the responsibility of the commenter. Legally, we are a "common carrier." We're like the phone company, and we provide a service. What people say on our service is their own. That's exactly why we have a responsibility to offer comments and to err on the side of freedom and openness.

Some people will abuse it, and that is their responsibility. Our responsibility, as a news organization is to get the truth -- to illuminate dark corners, to reveal what's happening in your community. And this is, it turns out, part of what's out there. I don't really know what is behind it. But I know that our principles guide us not to hide it or hide from it, but to seek it out.

If the law sees the problem as being the responsibility of the commenter, I guess I see the problem as being the responsibility of the community. This vitriol is out there, whether it's on our comment boards or not. It's all over the internet, not just here in Sandusky. And I doubt the internet created this problem. It's been festering a long time, the internet merely exposed it. The question is what are the rest of us going to do about it?

I can tell you this, not a whole lot of people are using the "report abuse" link underneath every comment. We could take the comments off this site entirely, but all that will serve is to hide the problem, and at that it will be only momentary. If they're not saying it here they'll be saying it somewhere else soon enough. We have a broader problem on our hands, and it's not just here, but all over this country: we have become a society without a social feeling, a community without communion. The Register could censor the comments with all the righteous indignation we can muster, but wouldn't it send a much more powerful message if the rest of us came together as a community to decide what kind of society we want to be?

PS If a comment of yours has been removed, you can contact us via the contact form on this site with your screen name and the approximate time you posted and we will be happy to tell you the reason.

PPS The forums disappeared because they are on servers in Sandusky (the rest of this site isn't) and there was no internet access to our building from Sunday afternoon to today.



I noticed today that the Morning Journal makes you register inorder to post and read comments.

But I guess that what you are saying is that if it is not posted here, people will just say it on the street. So you would rather have the filth on your website.

I am glad to see that the Morning Journal is taking the responsible route. While you are taking the "increase our hit count" route.


I just checked and the Port Clinton News Herald also makes you log in to leave comments. The same is true for the Fremont paper.


Never confuse what is legal with what is right!


I thought it was really well written, Nicholas.

Thanks for the lucid, well-thought-out thoughts.


So Mr. White, in other words you're not going to even TRY to do anything different or see how the possibilites mentioned might make things better on the comment sections?! I honestly think no one at the Register is sincerely concerned about the great dis-service you are doing to our area. As long as this comment abuse means more web hits for your site, that's really all you care about. I read other newspaper websites, including the Toledo Blade and the Morning Journal, and NONE of them allow the kind of garbage the Register allows in it's comment sections. The "free speech" angle you wrote about is just a sorry excuse for not doing anything. SO WHAT if, as you reasoned,we aren't able to read the nasty comments on here then eventually we will hear it somewhere else? That is the most utterly ridiculous thing you wrote. I don't usually hear garbage and mean-spirited remarks as savage as the ones on here in my everyday dealings with people. I don't chose to associate with people like that, and the odds that I would eventually hear the same crude, rude, lowlife remarks that the SR allows to be posted on here are quite low. Why can you not rethink this and TAKE THE HIGH ROAD? Why did you even ask what changes we'd like if you have no intention of following through on anything. The Register should be ashamed of providing such an easy way for any number of weirdos, wackos, racists and just plain mean, nasty people to post anything they want on here. This does not serve our community in any kind of positive way, and if it cannot be controlled, it should go away.I am greatly dissapointed that the Register will not do the RIGHT thing by trying a different approach to the comment sections.


I report abuse. I also just canceled my subscription and I don't plan on coming back to the site. I just saw that you have finally addressed the comments issue on your blog and that is great and I agree it's a hard thing. Maybe require a credit card, that you don't necessarily have to charge but it proves something doesn't it?
I think you should at least TRY the registration before ruling it out.

"We're like the phone company, and we provide a service. What people say on our service is their own."
To this I say, what people say on their phones, I don't have to read and I don't have to read your website or your newspaper any more either, so that is my stand. I'm all for freedom of speech, but let's keep it relevant to the article at hand without being slanderous, immature and childish.
Things like "I hope she's hot" - yeah, that show's real maturity.
I am very disappointed in this publication.
I just am disgusted with the immature people out there and it upsets me to read the comments and not have anything done.


this just in! Sandusky register says "If it's broke, why fix it, they'll just break it again." More at 11


The Register = Filth

and they are happy to provide an outlet for it, as long as it increases webtraffic so they can justify charging advertisers more.


Oh, I almost forgot. Anyone else notice the signs around town that someone has printed that says "Boycott Register Online Advertisers" It looks as though someone has started a website to lead a "grassroots" effort to make the Register take a higher road.

I am going to email them David Rau's address.


Once again, nice coverage SR of Margaretta and Perkins girls basketball, while totally ignoring the home town team, Sandusky SMCC.


If you're really proud of the product you deliver to our doorstep each day, without comments, then eliminate the online comments and let your online newspaper stand on its own merit.

You and your bosses do an extreme disservice to your readers and to the entire area.

You, sir, are full of baloney.


Last I heard was that Ralph was in some VA hospital in Cleveland. Nick, Ralph asked you a direct question and you refused to answer. My understanding is that Ralph is dying from brain cancer brought on by Agent Orange from his service in Vietnam. Nick, you are a d*ckhead for not replying to a dying man.


If you hate the comments so much, STOP READING THEM. Easy as pie.


Do like the Toledo Blade, they cut out the comments, and it's better web site for it.


I am e-mailing every online advertiser on the comments page and advising them I will not patronize their business if they advertise online with the Register blogs. The dollar is the only way the Register will listen


Ah freedom, still so very rare in this world.

Voltaire wrote: 'I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.'

John Morley: 'You have not converted a man because you have silenced him.'

Thanks Mr. White, that was considerate and well written.


Nick, you wrote:

There's a lot of skepticism out there that required registration would actually help. It takes about 30 seconds to get a valid email, free, without any kind of identity verification. If someone is determined to be vicious, they don't have to work very hard to get around registration.

What you're saying is true, but getting an email address – and then having that email address blocked after a series of unacceptable comments – which forces the troll to get ANOTHER email address in order to post more unacceptable comments would probably reduce the garbage significantly.

“Working hard” is exactly what prevents people from using the Sandusky Register forums. Working hard to leave comments is what most internet users try to avoid. The ease of leaving anonymous comments on the quickly-changing subject matter of Register stories creates an ideal atmosphere for local internet trolls. If web traffic is what you’re after – the current format is ideal. We think your web traffic takes precedent over creating a format that brings out useful dialogue with readers. The excuse you’re giving is viewed as a cop-out.


Nothing wrong with having people register to post, but then how many people would be blocked because they fail to agree with the Register's agenda?

Also, sometimes people post some pretty funny things on these forums and they are taken down. What's wrong with a little humor every now and then?

Moderating comments violates the freedom of speech guarenteed in the Constitution. A newspaper censoring readers thoughts. The irony is simply humorous.


I doubt the 10 or so people with the problem are going to change anything, but good luck.


Opinion, the Constitution guarantees that the GOVERNMENT cannot abridge your right to free speech. The irony here is that you don't know what you're talking about.


it looks like he was trying to point out the irony of the one who benefits from free speech (SR) censoring someone - not saying free speech is granted by everyone


It's not that anyone wants the comments totally removed. We'd just like the Register to police them better and make it more difficult for people to abuse the privilege of posting a comment. There are many interesting ideas found on here, but they are being overwhelmed by abusive garbage. Other papers CAN and DO control this situation, so why won't the Register do it? I'll tell you why. They want the web hits, so they refuse to do the right thing. They can make all the lame excuses they want as to why they won't fix things, but in reality it's the web interest they are after. This has caused this website to become overtly trashy and beneath what a TRULY responsible, respected newspaper would allow.


Although I understand your position, Mr. White, I would disagree with the statement of hearing the post somewhere else.

It is not difficult to type whatever you want on your comments when you are anonymous. However, when faced with an actual person, many of the posters who are posting to vent would be less "aggressive" because there is no shield to hide them. I would compare it to being the Wizard of Oz. Most posters who post insensitive, rude, or silly comments would cringe if they thought their neighbors had figured out their identity.


What are you suggesting? That in order to post we would have to register at SR offices with picture ID? That's the only way a person's identity would be known.


Why don't you just TRY having people register? The Norwalk Reflector does it, why can't you?
Make people PAY, oh but then you might get less hits on your website.
I guess it boils down to if you want to report the news or run a blog site and you obviously prefer a blog site over journalism.


Make it mandatory to enter the poster's legitimate email address along with their comment. On Sue Daugherty's last two blogs, imposters were signing in under other people's names, creating fraud, deception and chaos. This way, the SR could at least monitor the situation.


i wouldn't want these bloggers have my legitimate email address. Bad enough these immature posts are here. I sure don't want to receive them via e-mail.
The email address should only be available to SR with the IP address.


"Freedom of the press allows newspapers to print the truth as we find it, without government censorship. It does not mean we have to let gutter talk become the norm and let it drive out serious discussions."

Nick, we cannot have a serious discussion on this website. Every other comment is left by someone who thinks they are being funny, but instead are ruining your website and making Sandusky look like a joke to the rest of the nation.


Nick, are you for real? comments are getting deleted now that aren't even bad. they may be in poor taste, but i see no laws against that. heck, look what you're wearing in that picture up there. you can't pick and choose what stays or what goes by what you or your screener finds offensive. i agree that some of the posts are very nasty but i am not sure where you are drawing the line.
maybe i would be up for signing in. as long as the anonymity was still there. somehow.


Look at the other newspaper websites. You and I do not know who the people behind the comments are, however, the newspaper does. They also can suspend or delete accounts. All in all it provides the readers with a more kinder, productive website. One that encourages serious, thought provoking discussions. Not hatefilled rants that further drive Sandusky's reputation into the ground.