Letters From The Editor: Enter the Wild West (of the Web)

This is only a test. So, as they say, don't be alarmed.

I am talking about our decision to allow unfiltered online comments to appear below stories for the month of March. Registered readers can now post their comments without waiting for an editor to screen them before they appear.

Our editors will no longer serve as a filter unless they happen across something that shouldn't appear online.

Minute-by-minute policing will be left up to readers who "flag" inappropriate comments. If two readers flag a comment, it will temporarily disappear from our website and go to our web editor, Jamie Rowe, for review.

If Jamie deems the comment inappropriate, she will delete it. If she thinks it passes muster, she will restore it.

One thing Jamie has noticed: Readers sometimes flag comments with which they disagree. She wants all of our readers to know that she'll be restoring those.

Jamie will also restore flagged comments that are intellectually unsound, typo-riddled or deemed crazy, so much of the stuff you're used to seeing online will still be allowed.

But we're not going to cater to the lowest-common denominator. We won't tolerate comments that are racist, sexist, homophobic or vulgar. We'll also dispatch personal attacks and commercial pitches.

Ugly and inappropriate words will certainly get through — at least until we or two offended readers see them. That's where flagging for abuse comes in. If you see something troubling, let us know.

Also, we cannot edit comments. We can only remove them.

Not too long ago I wrote a column about my conflicted feelings on this subject. I wrote that I was glad we were able to pre-approve comments but that I also felt like the approval process slowed discourse.

Because our parent newspaper, the Los Angeles Times, allows unfiltered comments, I felt a little out of sync by holding out. Editors there also use a two-strikes system. Their media columnist, James Rainey, penned a nice column over the weekend on the challenges of anything-goes comments and the anonymity lent to those doing the talking.

We're not afraid to experiment in this Wild West age.

For example, there was a brief time when we published Web comments on the Forum page in the print edition. We thought it might be good for print readers to get a taste of the online debate, but readers complained, saying they preferred the integrity required by signed letters to the editor. The readers were right.

So we went back to the old system, requiring names, addresses and phone numbers — for verification, not publication — for all print Forum pieces. There is still something special about people unafraid to stand by their words.

JOHN CANALIS is editor of the Daily Pilot, Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot and Huntington Beach Independent. He can be reached at (714) 966-4607 and john.canalis@latimes.com.

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