Since the Rochester Beacon launched 10 months ago, we have worked hard to deliver responsible, high-quality journalism. But that’s not all: We also have tried to create a “public square” where thoughtful discussion and debate can take place. As our mission statement puts it, we want to “explore the complex challenges facing Rochester (and) foster open-minded discussion of important social, economic and political issues, providing a forum for diverse voices.”
To encourage reader participation, we decided to keep the rules and requirements to a minimum. Any article posted on the Beacon website was fair game for comment, so long as the submission adhered to our policy forbidding abusive, obscene, libelous or otherwise inappropriate comments. Screen names were fine, so long as they did not misrepresent one’s identity or impersonate someone else. To ensure that commenters follow the rules, we made it our practice to review all submissions.
Overall, this approach has worked fairly well. Once reviewed, most submissions are approved. But as we approach the one-year mark and look at ways to improve the Beacon, we think it’s time to make a change in our comment policy. Starting next week, we will require commenters to use their full, real names. A screen name or first name only no longer will be acceptable.
Many (or most) news websites have long wrestled with issues surrounding reader comments. Over the last decade, quite a few simply stopped posting them, citing too many trolls or the shift to discussion on social media. TheAtlantic.com replaced comments attached to articles with a new Letters section, where editors pick a select few for inclusion.
We weighed several possible changes before making a decision. Our goal is to keep the Beacon open to as many voices as possible, while removing anonymity, which generally does not promote thoughtful, responsible comment. We recognize at times there are legitimate reasons to use a pseudonym; our editors will consider requests for anonymity on a case-by-case basis.
Currently, most readers who submit comments use their full, real names; for them, there’s no change. For those who have commented using screen names, we hope you will understand why we think it’s important to make this change—and continue to share your thoughts with other Beacon readers.
Attribution is only one aspect of online commenting. So, here are answers to other questions that might be on your mind:
Generally, what kind of comments do you want submitted? We encourage readers to submit thoughtful, fact-based comments that are relevant to the article.
Why do you review comments before posting them? This is the only way we can ensure the submission adheres to our comment policy. The Beacon is nonpartisan and nonideological; whether our editors agree or disagree with a comment plays no role in the review.
Do you edit comments? No. Comments are either approved or rejected. However, in some cases we do explain why a comment has been rejected, and what changes would be required in order to conform to our policy.
If I see a posted comment that appears to violate your policy, what should I do? Please send us feedback via the website or email me directly, explaining why you think the comment should be removed.
Do you accept comments critical of the Beacon?We do not hesitate to approve comments that criticize articles by Beacon staffers or contributors. However, the criticism should be directed at the article in question—and a personal attack against any writer will not be approved.
Is there any other reason a comment might not be approved? If the comment is unrelated to the article in question, it will not be approved. We also reject rants and comments that appear to have no factual basis.
What if I see an error in a story? We appreciate it when errors are brought to our attention. Please do so by email to me or [email protected] .
Paul Ericson is Rochester Beacon’s executive editor.