GateHouse papers ban anonymous comments

Anonymous commenter reacts to new GateHouse policy
Anonymous commenter reacts to new GateHouse policy

Friday update: MetroWest Daily News columnist Julia Spitz offers her take.

Yet another major news organization is fighting back against the scourge of anonymous, hateful comments. GateHouse Media, a national chain that owns about 100 newspapers in Eastern Massachusetts, is now requiring readers to use their real names and log in via Facebook or LinkedIn. The new rules kick in today.

Here’s how the reason for the new policy was explained in the GateHouse-owned Patriot Ledger of Quincy earlier this week:

For some time, we’ve received complaints that the anonymous commenting system we’ve hosted on our online stories does little to enhance the conversation within our community. The criticism has been that some of the comments are hateful and sometimes, downright objectionable. We heard you and we agree.

Most of GateHouse’s Massachusetts papers are community weeklies, but there are also a few medium-size dailies — most prominently The Patriot Ledger, The Enterprise of Brockton, The MetroWest Daily News of Framingham and The Milford Daily News.

The new policy pertains to all of GateHouse’s properties, which include more than 300 daily and weekly papers, according to a tweet from Nicole Simmons, regional digital editor for GateHouse Media New England.

In discussing the new policy on Facebook this week, I’ve seen praise for the decision to banish anonymity and criticism for relying on third-party services such as Facebook and LinkedIn. My sense is that the new policy is a step in the right direction, and how well it works will depend on the willingness of local editors to engage with their audience.

In other words: better some places than others.

More on anonymous comments

Lowell blogger Richard Howe wrote a post last summer urging his anonymous commenters to identify themselves. He sent me an e-mail yesterday, and said that though he didn’t have much success, he does think the conversation at his site became more civil. Here’s an excerpt from what he wrote last July:

I’ve often said that local blogs are the modern day equivalent of the neighborhood coffee shop where everyone gathered to talk politics. These intensely local gatherings, duplicated hundreds of times around the city, provided a solid foundation for democracy at its most basic level.

But when neighbors gathered at the coffee shop to talk politics, they didn’t wear bags over their heads to mask their identities. In the same way, those who stay anonymous online are not making a positive contribution to this vitally important community building function of local blogs.

Well worth reading in full.

Two cheers for anonymous sources

Yes, anonymous quotes should be used sparingly. But in my latest for the Guardian, I argue that they are just like anything else in the journalist’s toolbox — a help to readers when used properly, a bane when abused.