Bringing Civility Back to Online Conversations | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Bringing Civility Back to Online Conversations

Here is what the Des Moines Register told readers today:

It was predictable. Allowing anonymous free-for-alls in online newspaper comments—in a way papers never would do in print—is about to go the way of the Hummer. The Des Moines Register, a Gannett-owned paper whose site looks just like the Clarion-Ledger's announced today that it has started allowing only comments from people logged in through Facebook. This somewhat-extreme measure comes after Gannett papers, and many other websites, operated at the other extreme for way too long: allowing just about anything anybody with a fake name wanted to post on their sites. They clearly thought, for a minute, that this was good for page views. And maybe for a minute it was. But, nowadays, all you hear is how nasty the comments are, and readers are flocking away from sites that allow this level of anonymous vitriol and nasty personal comments. People increasingly are only going to such sites for negative entertainment value—the same reason people watch Jerry Springer or pick up Star Magazine. Real news outlets have to have better sense.

Civility counts here in Iowa.

That has been a quick lesson learned in my first seven months as editor of The Des Moines Register and our portfolio of online products, anchored by

It's also a driving force behind our decision to ditch anonymous user names on our digital sites and require commenters to use their Facebook accounts to post comments on stories.

The new policy rolled out last night and should be visible on our website this morning. We are one of two Gannett newspapers launching this experiment.

What does it mean? First and foremost, it should be a significant step in eliminating the unnecessarily rude, mean-spirited and venomous comments that some of our online readers post in response to stories. ...

Here in Jackson, you used to hear people talking about how the Ledger had lost touch with readers and had lost its news franchise. Now, about the only comment I ever hear about the Ledger is: "I can't bear to read all those hateful (or nasty or racist) comments."

It is time that readers demand that real journalism outlets adopt serious and ethical moderation policies and reject hateful, personal comments. If we wouldn't publish it in print, we shouldn't allow it online. We own these websites, just as we own our papers. We're not government entities; the "First Amendment right" to be a libelous a-hole isn't even a question. It doesn't apply to private businesses.

Oh, and readers: It's up to you, too. Don't go to sites that allow long threads of hateful "anonymous" comments. And when you choose blogs to read, remember the adage that you cannot trust someone who is not willing to attach their name to their work. Especially if they claim to be journalists. They are playing at a very serious game; real journalists dig deep for information, put it into context and are not afraid to use their real names and to talk to real people for responses. If journalists do not follow these standards, the public suffers, and the journalist ends up in trouble, usually. And people who don't use their real names often destroy good people, including elected officials, in their rush to sensationalize.

Choose wisely, folks, if you want good watchdog journalism to continue in this country and not be overtaken by sensationalistic garbage designed to drown out the truth. It's up to you to become media literate and demand better.

Previous Comments


You know how much I hate to talk politic, but I wonder how much of that lack of civility can be attributed to Democrats versus republicans. I'll bet my last dollar Democrats are cooler, calmer and more civil in all of this. Anyhow the republicans will do their thang today in Iowa. I feel sorry for the state right now. The only thing missing is Sarah Palin as a candidate and Rick Skerry, Governor of Texas. Michelle Bachman makes Palin looks tame. Thank God we're civil over here at the JFP. Otherwise, I'd be getting cursed out and jumped on frequently, and rather unfairly I might add.


not sure i agree with all your statement , Our digital world is what it is, and while it has it's "terrible" faults, I have found some Very good info an tips here and there, not sure where all of this quote comes from and I don't even remember where i found it, but i thought it was worth sharing. "Every time a school was closed a jail had to be built. It's like feeding a dog on his own tail. He'll never get fat. I believe it is better to support schools than jails." ~ Mark Twain "The degree of civilization attained by a society may be measured by the way it treats those whom it incarcerates."


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