Open commenting is back at sacbee.com.
Last Tuesday, The Sacramento Bee rolled out a new registration system that opens commenting to readers who do not subscribe. It is not, however, our system of old, which allowed anonymous commenting that too often devolved into rancorous and sometimes offensive so-called conversations.
Sign-up has been simplified. Should you want to comment on a story or opinion piece, you must be registered and use your real name. You can choose to do that through a social media account if that’s easier and you like the connection. If not, you can use The Bee’s registration. If you click on the comments link above each story, you will find directions to register, FAQs and our community commenting guidelines.
Like the printed newspaper’s Letters to the Editor, online commenting has provided a valued platform for community connection. The differences between the two, however, affected the quality of the conversation. Letters historically required names and addresses and were verified by Bee staff. Commenting developed in an online era that enabled and even celebrated anonymity; some of those commenting told us they felt it was their right to remain anonymous and say whatever they wanted.
But anonymous commenting too often affected the people we wrote about, who were vilified by trolls. Parents told our education reporter they didn’t want their children interviewed for fear of ugly comments. Latino legislative leaders complained about racism. We learned we couldn’t allow comments on certain stories. Derogatory comments ranged from racist to vulgar to vicious personal attacks – all of which violate our commenting policy, even then. Some 300 comments each day were flagged by readers as problematic, and Bee digital staff would remove about half of them.
The Bee shut down comments late in 2013. We’ve spent the time since then developing and testing various approaches. Right now 1,373 people, mostly subscribers, are registered and commenting, with their names attached. They’ve written more than 11,000 comments that meet the goal we state in our guidelines, which is to enable readers to “share information and opinions and engage in community discussion” that is thoughtful and relevant to the story being discussed.
You will see two key changes in our comments:
▪ Reporters might jump in on a conversation if they can add information, respond to a question or correct a fact.
▪ We will insist that you use your name to register, or we will remove your commenting privileges. That happened immediately on Tuesday with a reader who registered with a false name.
Your registration to comment will have an added benefit for you: It will help us provide a better reader experience overall at sacbee.com. We’ve developed technology that allows us to suggest stories in which you’ve shown an interest over time (think Amazon and its technology to recommend books you might like). We won’t be pushy about this, but we will make suggestions in your story feed.
Seán McMahon, The Bee’s director of digital media, said the commenting registration “will make following stories easier and more personalized. It will make the site more useful.”
As an example, if you choose to register through Facebook, sacbee.com will make the Facebook sharing button more prominent so that it’s easier for you to share stories, videos or other coverage.
When I read comments on Bee stories on our Facebook page, it’s apparent that readers who are willing to attach their name to a comment in a public forum generally put some thought into it. The same is true of our Letters to the Editor, and the result is a robust discussion. People might disagree, but they do so in a manner that generates respect and a civil response. It’s fun to read; you learn about vast differences in opinion in the community. Especially with stories like the recent Sacramento City Council vote to approve an $8 million contract with Jeff Koons for public art at the new downtown arena.
The Koons art won’t be the only local controversy this year. We are a diverse and sometimes polarized region, with different views, lifestyles and priorities. It is a rich tapestry of opinion that we hope is well represented in The Bee’s new comments section.