JOIN THE CONVERSATION: How important is civility to you when entering online discussions about news and issues? To write a letter, go to sacbee.com/sendletter. Or comment on our Facebook page at facebook.com/sacramentobee.
The Sacramento Bee will begin inviting public comments online at Sacbee.com this week as part of a multi-step rollout to a new commenting environment on the site.
Our launch will be a limited, beta version of comments. Half of our 1,000 most active, paid subscribers – chosen randomly and given a voucher to register – have been invited to check out and use our new system. All readers will be able to read the comments at every stage of this rollout.
The biggest change for those who want to comment? We’re asking for first and last names and, initially, a social media sign-on.
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Since we shut down comments on Oct. 14, we’ve received quite a bit of feedback from readers in the Sacramento region and well beyond. Some thanked us for what they called a long overdue move to require those commenting to be identified, as they are in the printed newspaper, to encourage civility. Others decried the proposed lack of anonymity because, some said, it would prevent readers from openly expressing opinions lest it affect their job or standing in the community.
It is a complicated issue for some. One reader whose email started by saying “I totally understand why The Bee is doing this. The reader’s comments to The Bee are the worst I have ever seen ...” went on to write that for someone like her, the loss of anonymity means she cannot comment any more. The reason? She has kept her name out of social media because she was stalked by a former boyfriend. She requested I not publish her name and ended the email saying “I just wanted you to know why some people have valid reasons for wanting to be anonymous, and we are being left out because of the ‘bad seeds’ in this country.”
Anonymity is a decades-old issue with those who want their opinions published. In a letter dated Dec. 22, 1927, from Chas. K. McClatchy to a reader who submitted a letter, The Bee editor said, “I do not consider that anybody would think you were a coward simply because you didn’t want to get into publicity. But it is a rule – not only of The Bee, but of newspapers in general – that articles of that character should have the full name of the writer published.”
Most of our recent feedback has been a request to open comments again. It has been gratifying to hear from so many who have missed the opportunity to write their opinion after reading a story or piece of commentary.
Our new system won’t be perfect for all readers, but it will be an improvement overall.
This rollout will be gradual, initially focusing on those of you who are most invested in this effort – subscribers who have activated their Press Plus account at Sacbee.com. Our goal is a healthy commenting environment that is part of a quality experience at Sacbee.com. A staged rollout will allow us to verify identities and ensure commenting is adding value to the reader experience, augmenting or adding color to our news, rather than driving some readers away.
The speed of the rollout will partly depend on all of you. “As long as we are able to make sure the system is working correctly and our new standards are being met” we will continue to add groups of commenters, said Sean McMahon, director of digital.
Those invited to help us launch will need to register with a voucher we provide. While we initially will require a social network login, you will have six to choose from: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft.
If you are eager to be among the early adopters in this system, here’s how to speed that up: Subscribers should activate their digital Press Plus account. It’s free to do so and subscribers will be invited first. After subscribers are integrated into the system, one per household, we’ll expand the vouchers so that individuals within a household can use their own account to comment and share.
The final piece of the rollout will be for the general public, those who tend to come to Sacbee.com more irregularly and often live outside this region. Those of you in this category can get an invite sooner by filling out a Request Early Access form at http://sacb.ee/comments-faq
Improving the comment experience at Sacbee will take our entire community of readers. We’ll post ground rules of course and we’ll keep an eye on things. But ownership by all of our digital readers will keep the trolls at bay, ensuring a rich reading experience and lively discussion of community issues.