Breaking News Bar
updated: 9/15/2011 3:12 PM

Talk with the Editor: How do we make commenting more civil?

Success - Article sent! close

As I've said previously this week, we're exploring new ways to make online commenting more civil. I'm committed to making this happen.

It's possible to have a robust discussion without it being mean and offensive, possible for commenting to be provocative and informative without, for example, hurtful jokes about someone who was murdered.

If you think about it, Internet commenting can be such a civic boon, a real forum that helps all of us discuss experiences and debate issues.

But for it to achieve that, I believe, it must be strive to be respectful, fair and accurate.

Gosh, easier said than done.

And once you get into this, you find more gray lines than black and white ones.

But here are some of the things we're exploring:

1. Requiring commenters to use their real names, much like we do with letters to the editor. (I know, I know, this so far this week has been roundly booed as a bad idea that would cut off candid conversation.)

2. Use of Facebook as the registration tool for commenting. It would achieve much the same thing as the first idea but also provide for more widespread exposure of commenting on

3. Use of some very sophisticated software tools that search out abuses, obscene language, etc. This is not inexpensive but it has helped clean up commenting on a lot of sites.

4. Stricter terms of service that would be closer to the restrictions we place on letters to the editor. That is, for one example, a prohibition against attacks that are personal in nature rather than issue oriented. Admittedly, some of this is eye-of-the-beholder stuff, but I'm convinced some general TOS on tone is needed.

5. Eliminating commenting altogether on some categories of stories. Some of the most awful, hurtful comments people could possibly make have shown up on traffic accident stories and things of that nature, and while you'd like to think people might leave comments that provide comfort to family members, what often happens is the exact opposite.

Anyway, those are some of the things we're thinking about. Let me know what you think. Or if you have other ideas.

A couple of you, by the way, said in your own colorful ways that the introduction of subscription digital access will clean a lot of this up.

And actually, while it may be too early to say for sure, it seems so far that it has. I hope so at least.

Let me hear what you think. Thanks.

Have you seen our new sports video? (Posted Thursday morning, Sept. 15)

A couple of things I want to get address -- so this is going to be a two-column day.

A new feature just launched this morning so it needs some explanation.

But I'll be back after lunch with some words about online commenting. So please check back if that topic interests you.

For now, let me talk about the new weekly sports video feature we kicked off today. If you have any interest in Chicago sports, I hope you'll check it out.

We're calling it, "Ask the Sports Writers," and the idea is to interview the reporters on the beat who usually do the interviewing.

We've got the most experienced sports experts in Chicago. On almost every beat, our writers have been there the longest. And they're all used to being interviewed on radio and TV.

So we figured: Let's tap into that expertise and have some fun with it. The result, I think, is a breezy 2-to-3-minute video that's enjoyable to click through and provides a little insight too.

We're introducing it today with Daily Herald Bears expert Bob LeGere, but other sports writers will appear in subsequent weeks.

Let me know what you think of it. Also give me any suggestions you have for making it better.

And if now, or in the future, you've got any questions you think we should ask the sports writers, email them to Sports Editor Tom Quinlan at

Meanwhile, I hope you come back after lunch for a much meatier conversation.

How's this for a great idea? (Posted Tuesday, Sept. 13)

A few things to touch on with Day 2 of our experimental conversation. (Notice the subtle difference from yesterday in my description of this thing? Hmmm?)

First, here's a thought that popped up while driving to the office this morning.

I was thinking, if we're having a conversation, how do we maintain the flow from day to day? Particularly if there are a lot of people involved in the conversation. (Which we hope would be the case.)

And particularly if some people haven't read the previous column. (Which we regrettably acknowledge could actually happen.)

Conversations tend to be connected. But individual columns tend to be separate. How do we solve that dilemma?

Here's the idea I came up with: We'll string each week's columns together. I don't know how often I'll write and don't want to overcommit and then disappoint. It may be incessantly on some weeks; it may be sparingly on others.

But whatever it the frequency, during any week, we'll put the latest column on top, but string the previous ones from that week below it.

That way, you can check previous discussions fairly easily. And check comments from previous days too.

When I add a new column, I'll change the headline and that will be your tip that there's something new.

At the beginning of each week, we'll start a new column, but we'll include a link to previous weeks' columns.

How's that sound? Feel free to suggest refinements.

A few quick things:

In the next column, I'll provide some details on our current thinking related to creating an environment for more civil discourse in our online commenting.

Here's a question that may hint at that: What would you think of a system that requires commenters to use their real names?

A question came up Monday about a house fire in Rolling Meadows. WeeklyReader asked about a follow-up on the Aug. 23 fire on the 2700 block of Campbell Street. We checked into that with authorities, and they said there's nothing new to report, that it's still under investigation. But we'll keep checking.

For those of you who listen to broadcast media, Opinion Page Editor Jim Slusher will discuss today's Joe Walsh editorial at about 4:35 p.m. on WKRS radio in Lake County, 1220 AM.

And of course, a reminder to those new to this column: This is a conversation. For it to work, I want and need your participation. You do that by clicking on the comment box and adding your comment just like a commenter on any other story on

And remember always, let's make it a civil conversation. We insist on civility, Not just to me, but to you and other participants in this conversation too. If you can't agree to that rule, that's OK; just go play somewhere else.

Let's start a conversation (Posted Monday, Sept. 12)

Welcome to Day 1 of an experiment.

This isn't exactly a blog. And it isn't exactly a column. For want of a better description, we're calling it an interactive column, but it's really more or less an idea that's still taking shape, an experiment, as I said in the lead.

Precisely how it will develop is anybody's guess, but the point of it is a bit more clear: I'm the editor. I want you to have better personal access to the newsroom. I want us to try to engage in a conversation about the Daily Herald in all forms -- print, digital; what we are, what we may become; our values, your needs, our realities, your ideas, our performance, your concerns.

But the intention is not to limit the discussion to the Daily Herald. Let's talk about the evolution of news and the news industry in general as part of that conversation.

As I say, it's not altogether clear where this will lead.

But it would be great if we could get wherever that is together. Your participation is absolutely the key to whether this works and how well. Absolutely key. We need you to participate.

One promise: If you participate, I'll do all I can to make it worth your while.

Initially at least, here's how it might work:

I write regularly. I say "regularly" and what I mean by that is almost every day. But I say "regularly" and not "every day" because I know there will be days when other time demands may make it almost impossible to do the column justice -- not just the initial writing part, but the follow-up conversation too because that will be the most important part. So it won't be every day, but it will be regularly and it will be a lot.

And to help make sure of that, Executive Editor Madeleine Doubek will be a frequent contributor too. Some other newsroom editors may pop in from time to time too.

After I write, we hope you will offer your comments. You do that by clicking on the comment box and adding your comment just like a commenter on any other story on

We hope other readers jump into the conversation too.

And I will as well at various parts of the day.

Here's an important ground rule: Civility. Let's have a civil conversation. I'll be civil in my part of the conversation; it's not unreasonable to expect civility in return. Not just to me, not just to the Daily Herald, but to other participants in this conversation too.

If you can't agree to that rule, that's OK; just go play somewhere else.

Fair enough?

So here's kind of a softball topic to start things off. What do you think of the idea? How can we make it work?

And what should we label this thing? At the moment, we're leaning toward "Talk with the Editor." But I kind of like "Public Access" too. Do you have a preference? And if so, why? Or do you have a better idea for a title?

Let us know. I'm not sure how this will work, but I look forward to talking with you.