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

DGMutley

The loss of anonymity = the loss of a comment section. Loss of a robust comment section is no small thing. Look at the devastating effect doing away with a viable comment section had on AOL.

For a glimpse of the future of a "Facebook login" just look at the Register's Facebook comment section.

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

As I continue reading the comments from the public and the responces by mr. Westerhold I come to realize two things. Mr. Westerhold seems to be an arrogant disillusioned person. How do you counter an opinion from one of your readers a.k.a. customer with a statement that essentially said, you dont know what your talking about so your thoughts are invalid. Thought two..... I truely believe that this just might be a way to suppress the voices that call the register out on their bullspit. Again these are my opinions which is what a comment section is for. Granted the old saying is opinions are like buttholes. Everyone has one and they all stink...... but sometimes thoes opinions lead to some revolutionary ideas.

Matt Westerhold

Ouch. 

BabyMomma

Wow! Now that is mature. Real class act. If that is what you have to offer, than silence is your ticket to success

AnyMajDude

I find reading the blogs a method of understanding what other’s think & feel about the articles posted. As I do not get out talking and hearing what a diverse cross section of society are saying, the blogger’s comments good, bad & ugly bring to light how they really feel. For me, this is sort of a finger on the pulse of the community so to speak. It’s apparent that there are lots of social ills in all of the communities out there; too bad the community leaders are not paying attention.
As others have noted here, I will not pay for the electronic version, as I still “read the paper”! Old School is not always bad! As a business case, you gotta do what you gotta do, good luck!

BabyMomma

I agree. I usually learn more about any given topic from the comments more so than the article itself. The article has to be "politically correct" more than the commenters have to.

Dr. Information

75% of the comments on any given hot topic are nothing more than name calling, making threats against ones life...etc. Do you people live such disturbing lives that you have to read that stuff or you wont survive?

Nemesis

75% - Really? Your math skills are not strong. Namecalling is about 5% and threats less than 1%.

queenjhb

Matt, the comment section really is great the way it is , I've given my opinion and even had my opinion changed by what commenters had to add. I even believe it has been the start of grass root ideas that have been embraced by the community. I hope the changes don't lose this.

Kottage Kat

Matt,
It's been a good run.
Have wantedto say this for a long time.
HISS ON YOU MATT WESTERHOLD
DA KAT with a K

Centauri

http://www.experienceproject.com...
"Why don't Newspapers tell the truth?"

Read the comments

Centauri

http://www.nieman.harvard.edu/re...
"Journalism’s First Obligation Is to Tell the Truth"

Matt Westerhold

Thanks Centauri for the link. A journalist's job, it seems to me, is to pursue the best, most factual information available, verify that information, and verify it again. Many times that means reporting on public documents and what is represented in those public documents, which may, or may not be truthful. A journalist cannot know whether the information documented by public officials is truthful beyond accurately reporting that information. We are not arbiters of truth; we are chroniclers of information in the public domain. For example, if someone is falsely accused of holding up a bank and is charged with bank robbery, it is accurate to say that person has been accused of bank robbery even though it is not a fact — it is not truthful — that this person is a bank robber. In the end it would be up to a court to determine whether this person robbed the bank, and even though falsely accused, a judge or a jury could convict an innocent person of bank robbery. It would be truthful to write, "John Doe, 37, was convicted of bank robbery," but it would not be accurate or truthful to say he is a bank robber if he was wrongfully convicted.  

Centauri

"Many times that means reporting on public documents and what is represented in those public documents, which may, or may not be truthful."

And this is why a need to dig deeper. There are witnesses who observed public meetings and court trials where the public records recorded were false.

Centauri

https://sites.google.com/site/ma...
"newspapers have a duty to truth... [but] they tell the truth only as the exception"

Centauri

I predict that within 5 years, the Sandusky Register will cease to exit.

Contango

Re: "I predict that within 5 years, the Sandusky Register will cease to exit."

Rather doubt it.

It may become like others: A publication that's printed a few times a week and/or totally web-based with both subscription and free content.

The industry has become tough, no doubt about it.

I used to sell print advertising for specialized publications and got out when the gittin' was good.

Centauri

Competition to the Sandusky Register could be on the horizon. Maybe not a printed newspaper but a website based news media. Many people are getting fed up with biased reporting. Many sheeple are starting to wise up.

Contango

Re: "Competition to the Sandusky Register could be on the horizon."

If a well-heeled entrepreneur cares to try, it could be interesting.

Advertisers and eyeballs are the fuel that would ultimately determine its success or failure.

The SR has name recognition, tradition and goodwill, obstacles any usurper would have to struggle to overcome.

Matt Westerhold

Do you really believe there will be no appetite for local news coverage five years from now? Be sure to buy a copy of Thursday's Thanksgiving edition and try to count the number of advertisers that still know — regardless of a changing industry — the Sandusky Register continues to provide the best and most effective advertising opportunities in the five-county region. 

whattheBucks

Ok Matt, that's one day a year, how about we check it in mid Jan our mid Feb ? Of course you would pick the most busiest time of year. Brilliant

Matt Westerhold

Thanks, but brilliant might be an overstatement. The busiest day of the year also might serve as a barometer, of  some sort, perhaps. 

Nemesis

An outlier as a barometer for the entire dataset? SOMEBODY slept through statistics class.

Centauri

If the Limberios shooting happened in Erie County, OHIO, it would have been swept under the rug. The Sandusky County Register is only wishful thinking. If the Sandusky Register told the whole truth and exposed the lies and not hold back, it would be known as the OHIO Register with circulation in the hundreds of thousands. The Ohio Register could be the largest newspaper in the nation and could expand to other states.

Matt Westerhold

Excellent comment. That's big-picture thinking Centauri. 

Centauri

Here is a bigger picture, Matt:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ta...
"Death of Newspapers"

Matt, Do you recall the Cleveland Press (OHIO) and their biased reporting about the Sam Sheppard murder trial? What happened to the Cleveland Press?

http://www.ohio.edu/ethics/2001-...
"In fact, The Cleveland Press was clearly the most opinionated and unfair newspaper involved in the entire trial. Running articles with unusually large headlines and enormous photos drew attention to the trial. In fact, they ran some of the most scandalous and scathing editorials – some of which had direct influence on the outcome of the trial."

Matt Westerhold

The links you provide are usually very interesting. Thanks for sharing. 

oldpirate

Centauri you been drinkn my whiskey?

whattheBucks

Yes him and Matt, all day !!

Centauri

Nope, not me.

Pages