Everything one day comes to an end

Matt Westerhold
Nov 25, 2013

The Register's digital editor, Jason Werling, started a blog last week at sanduskyregister.com asking readers what changes they want to see at the news website.

“I would like to see having to log in to comment,” the second reader who commented at the blog said.

That's been debated for years, weighing the value of the interaction against the wild west-like attitude that some commenters have displayed. There were other readers at the blog who argued for keeping comments anonymous.

There have been times in the last five years when prejudices, biases and blatant racism showed up in the comments section at sanduskyregister.com in a way that was, at first, hard to comprehend.

Nearly five decades after the civil rights movement exposed the blatant racism of public officials in Montgomery, Ala., with their police dogs attacking children and their fire hoses turned on peaceful protesters, that same attitude was still apparent, right here on the North Coast, in the Register's comment section.

Unlike Montgomery police Chief (commissioner of public safety) Bull Conner, however, this modern-day racism was cloaked in the anonymity the comments section allowed. At times, we were forced to simply turn off the comments feature at the website; other times we allowed it to occur.

The anonymity allowed the sources of this racism to be hidden, but the question was should the Register hide that from the community by not allowing anonymous commenting. There is some value in knowing that some in our community are as racist today as Bull Conner was then.

The civil rights movement succeeded in an important way: It made that kind of racism go underground. A certain number of local residents still had those same attitudes, but expressing them openly is no longer an option. Too many people have become enlightened and will not tolerate it without responding.

There's nothing courageous about racist, anonymous commenting and then slinking away with a superior attitude. But racism is not the only problem with allowing anonymous commenting, and it's not the only thing about sanduskyregister.com that will be changing in 2014.

Comments drive traffic to the website, which is an important component for every newspaper developing new business models for digital products. The Sandusky Register's website enjoys robust traffic. There likely are few, if any, community newspapers anywhere that wouldn't gladly trade up for our traffic numbers.

In recent months the Register has changed its digital distribution of newspaper content at the website. Previously, stories were routinely “truncated,” or shortened considerably, and used as a tease for readers to purchase the daily print edition or the newspaper e-edition, an electronic replica of the newspaper available at the website.

Lately, however, we've been developing a “full distribution” model in which news stories are placed at the website in full without requiring readers to purchase the content. In addition, we've added other features, columns and content from the print edition into the “stream” of stories that get posted at the website.

The free, full-distribution services are temporary, however, in preparation for changes at sanduskyregister.com that will be made next year.

In 2014, Sandusky Newspapers Inc., which owns the Register and seven other newspapers, will make a major capital investment upgrading our technology and introducing a digital membership service.

There will still be content every day that readers can access at no charge, but the meat of our labors will be reserved for readers who pay us for our services. The specifics how this will work are still being reviewed, but how readers access news stories, and how they can comment at the website, will be changing.

Werling's blog asking readers what they want at the website is an integral part of that development process and there were many good suggestions from readers that will be incorporated in the changes that will be made.

Werling plans to continue getting feedback from readers each week at his blog, and reporting back on the developments and incorporating every good idea in the development. Go to the “Blogs” section at the homepage to share your thoughts at Werling's blog. 

Comments

BabyMomma

+69

Peninsula Pundit

+1

the unsilent majority's picture
the unsilent ma...

+1 over and over and over

Centauri

+100

BabyMomma

In yo face Matt Westerhold.

The Big Dog's back

Right on sam baby.

pepper1530's picture
pepper1530

Why is there no e-paper this morning? If you look at the printed copy, all you see on the front page is a turkey - must be a really slow news day to put a full page picture of a turkey on the front page.

Darkhorse

If the country keeps going the way it is going, we won't have to worry about free speech because there will not be free speech. In a few more years, you won't recognize this country to be known as America.

Señor Clown

“I would like to see having to log in to comment”

Try typing sanduskyregister.com/user/logout into your address bar, press enter, and then try posting a comment. You already have to log in to comment.

Peninsula Pundit

+1

AJ Oliver

So, one can fight against racism by giving racists a protected anonymous platform from which to spew hatred ? I don't THINK so.

SamAdams

The racists are spewing hatred regardless of the platform. To let them spew on a platform like this means that their attitudes can be COUNTERED just as publicly. I'd much rather at least attempt to change a mind or two than to think the spewing is fomenting in secret until it boils over!

In the event of CRIMINAL threats and the like, well, the authorities can identify you regardless of your anonymity here. But short of criminality, are you suggesting that certain speech should be limited? And if so, what if it's YOURS? I find your promotion of censorship to be offensive, just for example...

Contango

Reminds me:

“You have not converted a man because you have silenced him.”

- John Morley

If intelligent debate and discussions were forthcoming, this could be a forum for potential conversions.

Instead, burying the problem tends to only allow it to fester and grow unobserved and solves NOTHING.

Stop It

You "don't" think, AJ. Therein lies the problem. You've shown enough evidence of who you are and what you are in these comment sections to have your identity stolen. That is NO LIE.

OMG.LOL.WT_

'lots of Luck" with your charges. http://www.onlinenewspapers.com/...

Contango

IMO, no one should really be too hard on Mr. Westerhold.

The web has most users believing that content should be free. He's just trying to figure out how to keep the ship afloat and get he and his staff paid.

About my only issue is with the use of the racism straw man as the causal agent.

As my late father-in-law used to say:

The nerve that controls the body leads to the hip pocket.

IMO, financials are at play here – not racism or any other excuse.

Peninsula Pundit

Are we to understand, Mr.Westerhold, that you do not realize that no one is really anonymous on the internet? Review recent articles concerning the NSA.
Or that by bringing on something like Facebook login will reveal anyone who dares posts racist comments?
I believe you to be a tech-savvy type, so why post such specious arguments for changing format?
I also believe your comments about your web traffic being the envy of other community papers. These other papers have gone to the facebook login and truncated story format you are going to adopt and as a result, lost their web traffic.
Let me clue you in from someone who is far from being an internet genius:
I have had a facebook page to post from which reveals nothing about me for a couple years already.
I have found a simple way to defeat the truncated story format, such as the PC Nude Harold uses that does not involve any fancy programming knowledge.
I certainly am under no illusion that I am the only person able to figure this out.
So your reasons for changing format are already defeated and the result will be an almost complete loss of your enviable web traffic.
Golly, papers are already hurting enough in this technological revolution and you are going to willingly scotch the one thing the Register has going for it?
Make it easy on yourself: Just end the comments section now. The only difference between this course of action and your proposed one is only one of when your website traffic disappears.

Contango

Re: "Golly, papers are already hurting enough in this technological revolution and you are going to willingly scotch the one thing the Register has going for it?"

Excellent point.

Stop It

+1

Matt Westerhold

Thanks Peninsula, but it's possible you might think you know more than you actually do. The column was written without any stealth motives, or agenda beyond what it states. It is what it is, as they say. 

Contango

@ Mr. Westerhold:

Agreed that there was some speculation, but what was important IMO was PP's reiteration your own statement.

"The Sandusky Register's website enjoys robust traffic. There likely are few, if any, community newspapers anywhere that wouldn't gladly trade up for our traffic numbers."

As you yourself state: The commenters have intrinsic value.

How to quantify that becomes the issue.

Peninsula Pundit

That's happened before, Matt.
I'll readily admit it.
Contango, I believe that was your point first.
I just sharpened the tip a bit.

eriemom

Racism does exist. I would rather see it than hide from it. I wonder if this is actually related to comments about the Perkins school levy passage. I remember Dr. Gunner commenting that the cause of the failure was this same newspaper's comment section.

Without freely given comments the board would have continued to believe that their actions were accepted by the community with little understanding about why their school levy failed. The failure was not caused by anonymous comment posts. It was caused by group think.

Finn Finn

This is EXACTLY what I thought immediately eriemom, when I first read the original Mailbag question from "Sarah in Sandusky". The ground swell of NO voters started right here. NO voters realized they weren't alone in their thinking and became more vocal in their opposition, complete with yard signs, etc. Gunner saw how this comment section galvanized No voters and he didn't like it. Finally, an effective tool to use to prevent School Boards from beating down the public with endless attempts to pass new levies.

DGMutley

Very good point, eriemom.

Peninsula Pundit

You bring up a good point about the 'group think' I hadn't considered and is quite valid for what it is. This forum may have also unknowingly led to the capture of criminals or a lead in a news story. In that respect, the comments are worth more than the paper.
However, the Register is not obligated to be the forum, though one would think it speaks to the very essential of news-gathering: Keeping one's ear to the ground.
So, let the Register scotch the comments section or handicap it. Ultimately, the loss will be theirs both financially and informationally.

ladydye_5

I will not pay for the "new" paper either.

thinkagain

Hallelujah!

Stop It

Matt is just stirring crap in the pee pot. It isn't obvious?

Centauri

Only unbiased and truthful news media can weed out corruption. Biased newspapers that hold back on the truth or the lies only promote corruption.

http://www.sott.net/

http://blacklistednews.com/

http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-...
"What is an Investigative Reporter?"

Pages