Sometimes, you just have to know when to give up. That’s what we’ve done on our website, www.evesun.com today – the online Forum is no more. We started it with a redesign of the website five years ago, and at first it was a lot of fun getting that kind of instant feedback from our readers – and some lively discussions ensued.
But we all know where that ended up. The mistake we made, and one that is rampant across all Internet message boards, was allowing posters to choose anonymous user names instead of using their real identities (something that, in the age before Facebook, would have been nearly impossible to do). What began as an interesting way for readers to interact with us (and each other) online quickly devolved into a hostile, childish and often slanderous mess.
It was the Age of the Troll.
We policed the online forum as best we could for a long time, but it quickly became evident that we were spending a lot of time and energy to babysit a very small percentage of our readership – on a feature that, quite frankly, was not making us any money. In the end, it came down to economy – and propriety. While we still have “30 Seconds,” of course, the website forum seemed outdated and redundant.
We still want and encourage feedback on our stories and discussions of community interest, and provide you several ways in which to do that:
• “30 Seconds” – Completely anonymous, save for identifying yourself by gender and town. The standard rules guarding against libel and profanity apply. Do it online, or call the old-fashioned way, 334-8122.
• Facebook – You can comment directly on The Evening Sun’s Facebook page (www. facebook.com/theeveningsun) or, starting today, you can comment on our website at the bottom of each story when you’re logged into your Facebook account, and your comments will appear there – along with your actual name and profile picture.
• The Telephone – We all still have them on our desks, and you can call us! The main line for The Evening Sun is 334-3276.
• Fax – No, on second thought, don’t do that. It’s 2011!
• E-mail – Everyone on staff here has their own e-mail address, and they’re good about corresponding. The “general” e-mail comes to me, and I sort it out from there – it’s firstname.lastname@example.org.
• U.S. Mail – Yes, we still get that too! PO Box 151, Norwich NY 13815.
• In person! – They don’t allow me out in public very often, but my reporters are always on the street. You’ve seen their pictures in the paper – stop and talk to them!
• And last, but not least, my personal favorite: Letters to the Editor – Nothing says credibility quite like putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), expressing your thoughts intelligently (and in complete sentences!) and signing your name to it. All we require is your address and daytime phone number for verification, neither of which we’ll use in print.
In case you missed it (as of press time, we’ve already removed the old ES Forum from the website), here’s the notice I posted to users yesterday:
Attention all users of The Evening Sun Forum: This website feature will cease operations on Friday, Sept. 16. Instead, users who log in through their Facebook accounts may comment on news stories and engage in discussions using their real names.
It’s been a good run here – five years of a Forum that was entertaining and thought-provoking, but more often frustrating. As many of you know, we’ve struggled with, for lack of a better word, “trolls” since the inception of this Forum in 2006. While the majority of users were respectful and thoughtful (actually the majority were simply readers who never posted at all), there were a few repeat offenders intent on using this forum for their own amusement – attacking, belittling and insulting others, time and time again. Unfortunately, a few drove away many, and contributed to this forum’s lack of participation and eventual demise.
We believe that users like those miscreants did so because they could hide behind the anonymity of a made-up user name. Or in some cases, several of them. It is our hope that by employing Facebook identities attached to reader comments, it will encourage a more healthy, robust discussion – free of the childish antics that anonymity seems to foster.
That said, of course we’ll still have “30 Seconds” for you to vent your frustrations and voice your opinions, names withheld, in a slightly different and hopefully less combative format. Our feeling was that having two such forums on our website was redundant, and counterproductive to a healthy community dialogue. On Friday, we’ll join countless news organizations across the country who have partnered with Facebook in providing feedback features leveraged by authentic identity.
Thank you for your participation in this Forum over the years – it’s certainly never been dull! I hope to see you all return to evesun.com to comment on our stories and provide feedback with the integrity of your real names.