Start the Presses: Word problems

When we launched a major redesign of the websites of the Glendale News-Press and Burbank Leader in May, we launched with a number of design flaws. Those flaws led to decreased readership online.

But you know what? People are generally forgiving, even those who left angry voicemails. As we make the site easier to use and more useful, our web traffic has steadily increased.

Of course, we still have a long way to go. We have yet to fully utilize the multimedia skills of our photo staff, nor do we have the ability to send out daily newsletters or breaking news alerts. Rest assured, though, that Web Editor Jamie Wetherbe is working tirelessly to make these happen.

Not all of our ideas work. A good example of this is our struggles with the online commenting system.

Both the News-Press and Leader used, until very recently, an automatic system. That is, if you registered, any comment you posted would show up immediately. This, I felt, was the best way to encourage people to engage with the paper online.

The alternative – requiring each post to be reviewed before showing up online – seemed to me a chill on free speech. Additionally, it's fairly difficult for people to respond to one another if it takes hours, or longer, for a comment to show up.

Perhaps you see where this is going. In addition to spam and advertisements for Viagra weakly disguised as legitimate remarks, we had numerous hateful, bigoted and racists comments.

The automatic system does account for this, by the way. The larger community is supposed to police itself, flagging such comments as inappropriate. This, in turn, alerts us to a problem, giving us the ability to deal with it appropriately. Additionally, if a comment receives two or more flags, that comment is automatically removed.

This, by the way, is how the Los Angeles Times deals with comments on its website. It is also a prime example of when it is best to part ways with our corporate sibling. The Times has many, many times more readers than we do, and has many more people commenting on its stories.

We simply don't have the online traffic, as yet, to allow for this. Here's my view: the more hateful and bigoted comments on our site, the less likely people with something constructive to say will do so. Left unchecked, the comments on the site will be made up of people virtually shouting at one another.

We're now moderating comments. If you submit a comment, I or another one of our editors will have to approve it before it goes live. My concern that this dampens free speech still remain. But I have other concerns. First, people who comment on our websites are, first and foremost, visitors. They are using the reach and reputation of the News-Press and Leader to make their points.

To put it bluntly: This is my sandbox, and you can't pee in it.

Second, creating a website or blog is hardly a difficult task. Anyone, including those with bigoted or racist views, can create their own website in a matter of minutes and spout off to their heart's content.

On a more cheerful note, I want to remind you all that we have a "Meet the Editors" event scheduled for this coming Thursday. Here's the details:

What: Come by and share your thoughts about the paper, happenings about town, or anything that's on your mind.

When: 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 9

Where: De Bell Clubhouse Grill, 1500 Walnut Ave., Burbank

Who: Myself and anyone else I can convince to come along.

Why: Because it's vitally important to find out what you, the readers, like, don't like or find just plain silly.

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