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“Iowa’s oldest newspaper” to charge fee to access website; will not allow anonymous coments

This news story was published on February 25, 2012.
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Steve Delaney, The Hawk Eye, Burlington, Iowa –

There has been much discussion in the newspaper industry about the policing of comments on stories posted on newspaper websites. Publishers have tried, mostly in vain, to require those who would post comments to maintain a sense of civility.

In practice, it’s been shown more often than not that the people offering up anonymous comments tend to police themselves. When one goes too far, subsequent commenters usually put that person in his, or her, place.

Still, the ability to say anything under the cloak of anonymity has proven without fail to bring out the worst vitriol in people. Without their name attached to the comment, people feel free to say the most vicious, vile, degrading, false and misleading things about others who happen to have their name or story in the newspaper.

Many folks, both inside and outside the building, have been asking me to put a stop to it for more than a year. Some people who normally would talk to us about a story are now gun-shy, understandably concerned that when the story is posted to our website people will take baseless potshots at them for no other reason than they can get away with it.

Last Sunday we published the first of several annual Progress sections. Another installment will be included in tomorrow’s paper. To test a new method of commenting on stories, readers who want to have some input on Progress stories can do so, but they have to do it through their Facebook accounts.

It worked well the first week, and we’ll continue to do it through the rest of the Progress sections, which we will publish well into March.

It was a test of sorts. And it passed the test.

So we’re going to adopt the same approach to comments on stories published daily in the newspaper.

I encourage people to continue to offer their insight and opinion to the stories we publish. Creating an avenue for a community conversation on the important stories of the day is part of the mission of a local newspaper. It helps the discussion progress.

Converting it to a Facebook process means the person loses a certain level of anonymity. But that’s no different than requiring people who submit letters to the editor from telling us who they are, and we confirm their identity.

Sources and news subjects reveal themselves in stories, so it’s unfair to permit someone to hide behind anonymity and criticize or attack people who are the sources or subjects of those news stories. It’s our fault that we’ve allowed it to go on this long.

My motivation in permitting it was that at least we knew our stories were drawing interest. That thought process has changed.

If you want to create your own web presence and say ugly things about others because you can keep your identity secret, go for it. That’s your choice.

But you’re no longer going to be able to do it on the website of Iowa’s oldest newspaper, subsequently the oldest independent, objective media in the state.

The change will begin Monday.

In addition to changes on our commenting approa ch, we’re in the process of redesigning our website and will launch a subscription model later this spring or early summer. Current subscribers will get access to the site so long as their subscription is current. Subscribers will be receiving information in the coming months on how to create a login and password to access the site.

There will be limited news content on the home page and a subscription needed for access to the complete news package. Newspapers across the country are making the conversion – Gannett announced a similar plan earlier this week for its newspapers – because news content, especially local news, costs money to produce and it has value to the consumer.

If your preference is a digital-only subscription to The Hawk Eye, that option will be available as well. We understand that many readers who access The Hawk Eye via our website live out of our delivery area and prefer immediate access to our content as opposed to waiting for the mailman to delivery it days later. We’ll be able to accommodate that.

Details of the conversion will be announced when they are hammered out. Stay tuned.

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7 Responses to “Iowa’s oldest newspaper” to charge fee to access website; will not allow anonymous coments

  1. Avatar

    Observer Reply Report comment

    February 27, 2012 at 3:22 am

    I no longer am a Facebook user for personal reasons.

    I believe that what Matt has here functions (spam filter not withstanding), and if need be, an automated registration process can be added, identifying who you are, but still allow a nom de plume for the sake of privacy. This allows Matt to know who I am, and the ability to curb my behavior if need be.

    I am not sure a registration type of software has a prohibitive cost, however it would add burden to the Webmaster. In that light, I would not mind paying a few shekels to support it.

  2. Avatar

    Lawrence Tully Reply Report comment

    February 26, 2012 at 12:38 am

    Love NIT I’m sure it will never cost to read the truth here! Matt don’t make us pay, please!! By the way I never read the glob!!!

  3. Avatar

    TheRealFred Reply Report comment

    February 25, 2012 at 7:22 pm

    No problem with commenting by facebook. But pay for accessing the “the rag” website???
    Why would anyone? Google news is free.
    DMR is nailing their own coffin shut.

  4. Avatar

    crm Reply Report comment

    February 25, 2012 at 6:53 pm

    I know its a stretch to NIT a newspaper!!

  5. Avatar

    crm Reply Report comment

    February 25, 2012 at 6:52 pm

    You mean NIT?

  6. Avatar

    Lancaster Reply Report comment

    February 25, 2012 at 5:44 pm

    Just wait till “Mason City’s worst newspaper” makes these same changes.

    • Avatar

      Palmdale Reply Report comment

      February 26, 2012 at 12:15 am

      Are you suggesting you read, interact, and comment on “Mason City’s worst newspaper”.