AnnistonStar.com readers should notice some overdue upgrades to the website starting Tuesday.
As mentioned in this space a few weeks ago, The Star's newsroom has long wished to modify the way readers make online comments. We found a solution that will eliminate anonymous commenting to the site. Instead, The Star will employ a Facebook.com-supported commenting system.
Here’s how it will work: Readers must be logged in to their Facebook accounts in order to leave a comment on an Anniston Star article. The posts will include the commenter’s name and his or her Facebook profile photo. Commenters will have the option of either posting the comment to their Facebook wall or not. If you don't have a Facebook account, you can register at Facebook.com.
For months, Star staffers have been frustrated by the tone of story comments on our site. We heard from Star readers who are equally unhappy with the incivility online. Too often the comments are full of personal attacks, name-calling and off-topic rants. The veil of anonymity has given greater license to commenters unwilling to engage in civil debate. We believe this nastiness drove off possible commenters who were reluctant to open themselves to personal attacks for merely expressing an opinion.
We have worked to find an alternative to our anonymous system. Given this desire to create a level of accountability, what we discovered is that Facebook offered the best platform thus far.
The Star is hardly alone in attempting to clean up its website comments. Hundreds of publications have or are in the process of better policing story comments. Earlier this year, Facebook launched the free commenting application The Star will be employing.
According to Bloomberg BusinessWeek, "more than 17,000 sites implemented" the Comments Box function, as Facebook calls it, in the first two weeks of its March release.
Last month, the Opelika-Auburn News and the Dothan Eagle adopted a Facebook-only commenting system, joining scores of publications, both large and small, that have embraced this technology. I recently spoke with several editors whose community newspapers switched to Facebook commenting.
David Little, editor of the Chico, Calif., Enterprise-Record, said, "The difference has been remarkable. I actually read the comments now because they are more useful, not just rants."
Tricia Vance, editorial page editor at the Wilmington, N.C., Star News, noted the "better quality of comments" and the ability to keep cyber-bullies from drowning out others.
Bill Perkins, editorial page editor of the Dothan Eagle, rated the change as an "improvement" that has thus far kept the online bitter-enders at bay.
A reminder: Besides the new comment posting system, the rules — no personal attacks, no name-calling, no infringement of copyrighted material and comments must stay on topic — will continue to be enforced.
A second change to the website is a slight redesign of our homepage. In its new format, AnnistonStar.com will feature a "Live Update" rail that offers a steady stream of community updates and breaking news. Our hope is that the updates will further establish AnnistonStar.com as the website to visit to learn about your community’s news as it happens.
And while we're talking digital doings, allow me to plug AnnistonStar.com’s Community Bloggers project. Several community blogs are already set up and we hope to see more go online soon. We think it’s an excellent way for readers to share with their community. The details are here.
By the way, just as in our new story commenting feature, bloggers will be identified by the first and last names as well as a photo. Please join us to share your news and views.
Bob Davis is editor of The Anniston Star. Contact him at 256-235-3540 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter at: twitter.com/EditorBobDavis.