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.