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

grumpy

The decision on what to change and how to sign in was made before Jason Werling ever brought it up in his blog. They "may" have changed their minds if something they hadn't already considered had been brought up. But nothing new or "earth shattering" was suggested. Those who run companies may ask for "suggestions" when changing things around but they have already decided and are just seeing if anything they haven't considered is brought up. It makes the, in this case readers and commenters feel they had some say in the matter. Hope it made folks feel special.

I will wait and see what and how things are changed and then decide if I stick around or go somewhere else.

I was surprised about the race ramblings in the article. Seemed trumped up and/or exaggerated to what I have read here the last few months. But maybe others are more touchy on the subject than I and see race in most comments they don't agree with.

Yellow Snow

It was cheap-shot to ask readers what they wanted to see in the Register, only to turn around and cut free content that so many enjoy.
The piss-ants delivering this news are small compared to all of Sandusky Newspapers Inc. and I doubt a local or two have any real influence on decisions.

http://www.grandhaventribune.com...

The Register loves to stir the pot, it . In August of this year the following article appeared in the Register.
http://www.sanduskyregister.com/...

Several asked how "diverse" the Register is, as they wrote this article, yet we received no response. You don't have it both ways.

Due to a layoff in the our house a few years ago, I quit buying the Register daily, then I cut garbage pickup (it's optional in the township). Ironic, best move I made on both bills.

I propose a "No Comments Day from the Readership" on Tuesdays and Wednesdays until January. Let's give them a dry run at this.

kURTje

See grump you get it a bit. (Those in "authority") To you Matt when I called a person a race disgrace (she denigrated Sandusky Cops with her racial stuff towards them) you removed my comment. You can never be a Marine. Another example of America.

grumpy

Those that own a business can do with it as they please. If the consumer doesn't like it they can decide not to partake. If the company loses consumers it stops being profitable. Unless the owner(s) are willing to proceed at a loss, most companies will either change to what their former consumers want/prefer, they will cease to exist, or be sold to others.

As I stated race has been blown out of proportion the last few years. It has even degraded to become something used to stop debates when one side or the other brings it up when it is not part of the debate. People are diluting the term from overuse and misuse of the term, making actual racism less meaningful/dreadful.

In the real world few want to be a Marine. It can be rather limiting for some. But if you wish to make that your standard for life you are free to do so, I doubt many care. I could never be a writer.. or a nurse... or a priest/preacher...nor many other occupations.

Julie R.

The Sandusky Register isn't going anywhere. It will be still be here 5 years from now and even 10. Personally, I hope so, anyway. It's almost like a family tradition. I can still remember my 92-year-old grandmother reading the Sandusky Register --- she couldn't go a day without it!

kURTje

Well grump don't know if it was Matt that contacted us; but we were contacted about a combat scenario by this paper. My blood did make national news on aforementioned fight. This was a few years back. They were not granted an interview for various reasons. Over the years some of the reasons validated why. truth is most will not listen to another's opinion & or facts. Such is most America.

Dr. Information

Racism is played by both sides. Just check out the recent "knock out game" played by your local thug knee grow targeting the common white cracker people. Yeah, its not a one sided street. Racism is kept alive by both sides.

donutshopguy

I enjoy the varied comments on numerous subjects. I enjoy the debate with many posters. I will still continue to post with my name when the change takes place.

I will not give up my constitutional rights to free speech.

Nemesis

You won't have the varied comments or the debate any more. Eventually you'll abandon it out of sheer boredom.

Megalomania

Westerhold and Werling,

Was there ever a chance that input received regarding comments could have any effect on "your" decision regarding identifying commentators, or is this a corporate decision that you have tried to sell as wanted by your customers?

Are you willing to let the comment section wither away?

Was/is there any pressure from political or governmental "leaders" to change the format? It is obvious how this could be beneficial to certain interests.

Werling, does your Perkins School relationship have anything to do with the commentator identification? To many it seems as though this is largely to do with shutting up the opposition to Perkins levies.
It is obvious that levy opposition would be largely silenced if identified, to keep retaliation away from children and family attending Perkins.

Jason Werling

Megalomania-

All the dialogue here and in my recent blog is being taken into consideration with any future decisions on how we move forward.

I think there is a general feeling in the community, not just some "leaders," of disenchantment with the Register. Many have tried to have a dialogue in our online community using their real names and have been blasted by anonymous people. I hear this sentiment in the community in face-to-face conversations.

I believe you will have a level playing field and an online community that supports itself and has a healthier dialogue if it were non-anonymous. It might take a while, but I'm optimistic.

I'm sure everyone that grasps on to their anonymous identity vehemently disagrees with this.

Any whistleblowers will still be able to contact the Register at anytime with news tips or things the newspaper should look into. That line of communication has been around since way before any newspaper had a comments section.

I'm not sure what you mean by Perkins School relationship other than my kids attending the schools there. It is the job of any journalist to stay objective and the role of the readership to decide if that objectivity is achieved. 

As far as "shutting up the opposition," I think the vote no portion of the community had their coverage in the Register just as much as the vote yes portion of the community. I'm sure both sides would argue the other side had more coverage.

 

Nemesis

"I believe you will have a level playing field and an online community that supports itself and has a healthier dialogue if it were non-anonymous."

Then I have a bridge to sell you. The chilling effect on the expression of minority viewpoints on controversial issues has been repeatedly demonstrated. Furthermore, identities only distract from ideas.

DGMutley

"I believe you will have a level playing field and an online community that supports itself and has a healthier dialogue if it were non-anonymous. It might take a while, but I'm optimistic." <<< Jason Werling

C'mon Jason, you don't even believe that.

To register to comment in The Plain Dealer forums you don't even have to give the paper your real name in the registration only your email address.
It's completely anonymous.

Anyone not publicly involved with their views already known would be crazy to tag controversial issues to their name. You become labeled as an activist.

Actually it's a moot point anyway if you intend to require a subscription to comment. That in itself will kill the comment section.

It seems most of the newspapers don't like to spend money to police their comment sections so they require Facebook log-ins etc. and problems go away. Has any poster ever read the "Discussion Guidelines"? There is no requirement to read them when registering to comment. It might be nice if commenters were at least required to read them.

Contango

Jason Werling writes: "non-anonymous"?

Not a word.

http://thesaurus.com/browse/anon...

Good luck with your new business plan.

Megalomania

Thanks Werling,
Your statement above proves your bias.
Your naivety is astounding in regards to free speech.
People will not be as forthcoming when they KNOW retribution is a sure reward for their opinions.
Using myself as an example, I would never use my real identity here given my job and status.

And, how do you quantify a "general feeling" of the community.... come on!

I know you are a good guy Jason, we share some of the same friends.

Just stop trying to rationalize the decisions being made as just.... you could easily enforce your current rules to reach your stated objectives while still giving those who wish to remain anonymous a voice.

Effectively silencing free speech because of a few jerks seems totally contrary to how any journalist worth his salt would react.

Centauri

"Any whistleblowers will still be able to contact the Register at anytime with news tips or things the newspaper should look into. That line of communication has been around since way before any newspaper had a comments section."

How about a story about the "partnership" between Erie County (OHIO) and the Kelleys Island ferry company?

http://blog.cleveland.com/metro/...
"In Ohio, the largest grant -- $2.72 million -- went to a partnership of the Kelleys Island ferry operator and Erie County, to build a 160-foot vessel."

The SR has been given all types of leads confidentially and publicly.

Can you imagine "Deep Throat" giving Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward his true identity?

Centauri

This morning, I received an email from "Sarah from Perkins" wanting to know why the Perkins Township (Erie County, OHIO) trustee meeting minutes are not up to date.

I checked to verify and found that the meeting minutes were months behind.

http://www.perkinstownshipohio.c...

I see that there are no meeting minutes updates since April 23, 2013. I also see that the meeting minutes from March 12 and March 26. 2013 were skipped over and not online. Now there is a news tip that the Sandusky Register can write about.

When I went to the home page of the township, I saw this under Recent News:

http://perkinsfire.com/
"The Perkins Township Trustees will hold a special executive session on November 15, 2013 to discuss purchase of property for public use."

Now there is another news tip to report on.

Centauri

"Any whistleblowers will still be able to contact the Register at anytime with news tips or things the newspaper should look into"

I expected to see a few additional comments after my last comment a few hours ago. What a bunch of sorry a$$ simpletons and sheeple that live in Ohio.

The question is:
What happens to whistleblowers? I could post hundreds of links to show you.

http://ethics.csc.ncsu.edu/old/1...
"The popular notion persists that whistleblowers are crazy and vengeful malcontents."

http://www.politico.com/story/20...
"What happens to whistleblowers?"

http://blog.longreads.com/post/5...
"5 Stories on What Happens to Whistleblowers After They Speak Out"

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/20...
"Whistleblowers, Beware: Most Claims End In Disappointment, Despair"

There is no demand for whistleblowers. The sheeple will not allow it. The news media will ignore whistleblowers.

DGMutley

Anonymity has played the major role in this newspaper's success in bringing to light and remedying many problems.

Not only the anonymous tips the Register gets but look at what has been uncovered because of the comments from the commenters in the comment sections.

We can name instance after instance starting with the Limberios injustice. The Register's success would have never gotten off the ground if it were not for the anonymous posters in the comment section.

The success anonymity has given the Register far outweighs the negative. Even the negatives have had a redeeming value because of the dialogue it's created.

DGMutley

Btw, Jason, what happened to our profile pictures? Surely miss being able to post animated gifs.

Coram Deo

Having been born and raised in Erie County and now transplanted to Richland County I have observed this about the Mansfield News Journal: when they changed from anonymous commenting to Facebook linked comment requirements the comment section to most stories went flat, they are almost non-existent now. A few here and there but nothing like the robust participation at the beginning. Perhaps this is what the SR actually wants.

Nemesis

Well, entry into a publicly visible field like journalism usually involves some need to be center stage in everyone's attention, and our comments do tend to detract from the service of that impulse.

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