Thursday, March 13, 2008

More on comment registration at

Editor & Publisher has published a story about the Herald's new comment registration policy. They direct our attention to a letter to readers by TMH Executive Editor Anders Gyllenhaal about the subject. He admits that requiring registration to comment was a long time coming but that it wasn't implemented for technical reasons. It seems to me that it couldn't be that difficult to implement.

The next thing needs to seriously look at is their arbitrary policy of allowing comments on articles about Hispanics, specifically Cubans and not allowing comments on articles about Blacks and Jews whose sensitivity they seem to protect much more.

Here's the letter from Gyllenhaal for posterity since puts all articles behind a for-pay wall after certain amount of time (which also needs to be remedied).

Website comments provide a forum for vital debate
When the power went out in South Florida two weeks ago, reporters gathered much of their most valuable information not from emergency workers or Florida Power & Light, but from the hundreds of readers who posted their version of events on

When Washington Redskins star Sean Taylor was killed last fall, thousands of readers filled The Miami Herald's website every day for more than a week with remembrances, condolences and debate over a senseless crime.

Something extraordinary is going on with what might be considered the next generation of letters to the editor. In the six months since The Miami Herald began publishing comments at the end of online stories, the response has been like nothing we've seen before.

Hundreds of thousands of readers are posting comments or following along with them each month. The commentary ranges from thoughtful insights on the news to valuable leads on stories to some of the most bitter, profane and abusive language imaginable.

Therein lies the rub.

From the first week the commenting launched, enabled by a simple form available at the end of online stories, it was obvious the new tool was going to be both a powerful form of expression and an easily misused bullhorn.

Stories like last year's series of police shootings prompted vast emotional outpourings that accumulated pages upon pages of condolences to the families and condemnations of the crimes. As deep as the paper's coverage might have been of these tragedies, the waves of those messages had a power all their own.

Other stories have stirred robust debates over big public issues of the day, from the war to the baseball stadium. Many readers return so regularly they come to know the names, politics and positions of fellow posters -- few of whom they ever meet -- as if they were neighbors.

And yet on too many stories, the comments swerve across the clear lines of common decency. Whenever the news brushes up against the cultural fault lines of our times -- from race relations to illegal immigration -- the postings can turn vicious, personal and outright racist.

Some readers have asked why the paper puts up with the excesses -- or doesn't do more to curb them. A few weeks ago The Miami Herald's ombudsman aired dozens of the reactions. As one recent caller put it: ``Why don't you just shut this down?''


The simple answer is that there's too much potential in this exchange for the kind of free-wheeling debate that every community needs.

The more complicated part is figuring out how to create the right kind of atmosphere, which is something we've been working on steadily for months.

We've tried a number of things: A team of editors reads over the message pages throughout the day and at night when the news is heavy and removes comments that are clearly out of bounds.

We've created filters to block offensive words and profanity, a list of which now stretches to 150 words in three languages.

Starting this week, readers wishing to post comments need to be registered with, a simple step that becomes invisible on subsequent visits. Anyone already registered doesn't need to do anything. Readers' sign-ons are automatically attached to their comments.

This last measure took some time to put into place for technical reasons but has quickly helped shape the tenor of the debate. We hope these steps will enable this important discussion to thrive. The appeal of the comment pages is that the paper steps out of the way and lets readers take over.

Shelley Acoca, The Herald's editor devoted to reader exchange, has thought about this topic as much as anyone. She oversees the comments pages, watches for patterns and problems and ponders the future of the project.


The work, she says, is worth it.

''I just think it's something we have to make work. This community really benefits from the discussion, particularly on things where we don't agree with each other,'' Acoca said. ``We have so many people who've come from places where freedom of expression isn't allowed. It's all the more important that we find a way to provide a place at the center of the community for all kinds of opinion.''


button said...

Unfortunately, Henry, this is all a big, elaborate Lie!

They are now blocking ALL their content behind a WALL, even if you don't want to comment. I never comment at the Herald's website, therefore there is NO LEGITIMATE reason why they need my E-Mail address - which I am never going to give them.

What they are doing is alienating the ever-shrinking English-literate population base in South Florida, so that they will end up being a Spanish-language-only publication.

And, at the same time, they are aggressively driving away a growing number of other Americans who have come to believe that Miami is now an integral part of Spanish-language-only South America.

--Broward Refusenik

Henry Gomez said...

I don't think it's a grand conspiracy to drive readers to the Spanish paper. The Herald, like any online marketer wants to know who its readers are so it can market to them and have its ad partners market to them. The same way as if you subscribed to the printed paper. The solution for you is simple. Create a throwaway email account with hotmail or gmail and register with that. No biggie.