We gave readers a chance to say whatever they wanted, and they did. We relied on the community to police the comments by flagging those deemed inappropriate, and they did. Sometimes.
Self-policing was slow, and offending comments were not always 86'd on weekends or late at night. Our small staff spent an inordinate amount of time reviewing and removing offending comments.
In short, the test didn't work. So we're going back to the way we used to do things. By the time you read this, we'll have started screening online comments before publication.
The decision was hard. Some good — story tips, spirited debate, reasoned arguments — came from removing the online filter. So did some bad — racism, homophobia, religious intolerance, falsehoods.
I expected all of that. But what caught me by surprise were attacks on children and spouses of newsmakers, as well as those on the dead.
Our editors need to have at least some control over what is "published" before the rest of the world sees it. That doesn't mean you won't see offensive exchanges or the same standards applied to comments that you'd find in published letters to the editor. We have a relatively high tolerance for criticism of policymakers and public figures, and I know that readers know which comments to take seriously and which to ignore, so there will be plenty of ridiculous comments, just like before.
But we're not going to allow online graffiti, cheap shots, deeply personal attacks on race, religion, sexuality, family members of public figures (unless they are in the news for legitimate reasons) and so forth.
Online users can still choose their screen names. They don't need to use their real names, though I personally feel that those who stand by what they say have more credibility. This why there are bylines, names below the letters to the editor and limited use of anonymous sources in our articles.
It's pretty obvious that given the profession I'm in I believe in free speech, but I also believe in a newspaper's role of making good editorial decisions about what gets published — and what doesn't.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.