While user comments on newspaper websites once were seen as a vital way to attract readers and create the interactivity that has become synonymous with the Web 2.0 era, now more and more newspapers are looking for ways to regulate anonymous reader comments, with some newspapers discontinuing them altogether, according to CNN.
The anonymity has resulted in hateful, often racist, offensive comments that "read like scribblings on a bathroom stall," the CNN story said.
In August, the Buffalo News, in New York, will begin requiring readers to register with a verifiable name, city of residence and phone number in order to be allowed to post comments online.
At the Sun Chronicle in Massachusetts, comments were disabled entirely in April after editors got fed up with so many inappropriate comments. Now, the newspaper is allowing comments as long as users register with a credit card and pay a one-time fee of 99 cents, according to the Columbia Journalism Review. The user's name as it appears on the credit card will be attached to all comments posted.
A commentary from Gawker argues that newspapers are not blogs, and thus shouldn't allow user comments at all.
However, Derek Thompson of The Atlantic argued that writers like to see readers reacting to their stories, even if the comments are negative. The Sun Chronicle's new comment policy, he said, "is going to empty a lot of comment boxes, and that's going to have a depressing effect around the newsroom."
According to Editor & Publisher, the tone of comments on the Chronicle's website already has improved since the registration requirement began.
» Massachusetts newspapers to charge for ability to comment; eliminate anonymity (World Editors Forum blog)