The comments area of Maine's former newspaper of record, the Portland Press Herald, has long been a nasty neighborhood, dominated by a pack of ignorant thugs. Thoughtful readers have learned not to even look at the comments, given the foul, often racist tenor of the remarks there.
That's a pity, because a well moderated comments section can be a more interesting and informative read than the news site itself. Take a look, for instance, at any story on the CBC's site for our neighbor (and demographic doppelganger), New Brunswick. The comments and debate there between readers is lively, pointed, and generally constructive. Often times you learn lots of things about the issue at hand that the CBC itself failed to report.
I've been a critic of Rich Connor's leadership of Maine's largest newspaper chain, but I'm encouraged to see his staff has just put out a reader survey asking if anonymous commenting should be eliminated, a step that might encourage posters to consider if they really stand behind their words. I encourage any of the paper's potential readers -- we all know how many of us have given up on the hapless broadsheet in recent years -- to take part.
My own position is that anonymous posting and blogging is often the refuge of scoundrels. Exercise your First Amendment rights proudly, thoughtfully, and in your own name.
[Update, 10/19/10: In an unusually cogent statement, Maine Today Media has announced it is ending online comments at all three of its newspapers, at least until such a time as they can figure out how to hold people accountable for their words. Now if you want to comment on a story, you'll have to write a letter to the editor under your real name, which is how it should be.]
[Update, 10/20/10, 10:00: The paper, perhaps reconsidering having posted something cogent and forceful, has taken down their explanatory statement, which had accurately described the comments section as having become "vicious," replacing it with this bland form that allows you to send your thoughts to Connor.]
[Update, 10/21/2010, 16:00: In another example of erratic, unprincipled leadership, the paper has reintroduced anonymous commenting.]
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