Interacting with us, with one another

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 30, 2007

One of our most satisfying roles as a newspaper is that of conversation


Historically, the conversation has happened at the breakfast table — “Golly, Martha, did you see where ol’ Joe’s been arrested” — or at the coffee shop — “The politicians have done raised our taxes again.”

Those time-honored exchanges aren’t going anywhere, but technology is expanding the conversations — and the audience for them.

Perhaps the most popular feature of our Web site — — is the opportunity for readers to react instantly to news stories. At the end of each story, readers can submit a comment about the story. Your comment, assuming it doesn’t violate standards of good taste or get us (and you) sued, appears beneath the story for all to read.

Many of you are posting — and many more are reading. The number of visitors to our Web site has doubled in six months, in large part because of the opportunity to interact with one another.

Most comments are simply opinions about the topic at hand. Often, however, one reader’s comment will spark responses from other readers. Before you know it, there’s a full-fledged conversation happening — not unlike the one at the breakfast table or at the coffee shop, but with many more participants.

And unlike at the breakfast table or the coffee shop, we at the newspaper — our writers and editors and, yes, this publisher — are privy to the conversation. That’s healthy on several levels.

Readers challenge us on the way we report a story. You ask questions that the story didn’t answer. You offer new details and angles.

And when we make a mistake, you correct us. In every community that I’ve edited or published a newspaper, there’s been at least one retired English teacher who dutifully marked our grammatical errors and sent them to me, usually anonymously. Keyboards and cyberspace have replaced the red pen and snail mail.

The feedback is invaluable — and keeps us in tune with our readership.

Unlike letters to the editor in our print edition, we allow anonymous comments on the Web site. For the most part, readers do not abuse this privilege. Occasionally, we have to delete a comment that’s defamatory or in poor taste. And a couple of weeks ago, a reader posed as one of our reporters and submitted a comment about a sensitive news story.

So that a handful of people don’t ruin the experience for the broader readership, we have some accountability tools. Primarily, we know the IP address of the computer from which a comment is submitted. Chronic abusers will be banned from posting.

To date, fortunately, we haven’t had many problems.

So keep on commenting. Dialog creates stronger communities. It holds elected leaders and local governments accountable for their actions.

And it will make our newspaper better and more relevant.