Comments Back In Business At New Haven Independent

Feb 20, 2012

After a two-week “time out” from reader comments, the New Haven Independent has re-enabled its comment function – with some important tweaks. WNPR’s Neena Satija reports.

When the Independent disabled its reader comment function two weeks ago, editor Paul Bass felt he didn’t have the resources to moderate the increasing amount of hateful and irrelevant content readers were posting. But many readers felt they’d lost a chance to weigh in on what was happening in the city. Now the site has announced that comments are back on. Bass says he got an overwhelming amount of feedback by email and in the comments section of other web sites.

BASS: “It confirmed to us how important the Independent comments section is to the life of New Haven. And everybody felt this gap, including us.”

Comments will be more limited than in the past. They’ll be screened only six times a day, rather than constantly. Commenters will have to register with the site using their real name and email address, though they can still post anonymously. There will be a word limit. And comments won’t make it through if they don’t contribute to the discussion. Here’s an example from Bass.  

BASS: “Let’s say someone just can’t stand a principal at a school. So no matter what you write: The person wins an award, the person just saved a baby’s life, they’re just going to have the same rant about how this person’s just always terrible and doing terrible things in public or just has always been terrible their whole life and run over the same reasons ten times in a row. We’re not going to run that.”

And if readers contribute what Bass calls “factual assertions” – or anything with information that should be verified – their comments won’t be posted. Instead, they’ll go to the editors and be treated as news tips.

Bass still isn’t sure if comments are back for good. He thinks social media may soon eliminate the need for comments on the Independent’s site. But for now, he’s willing to try again. Bass has even heard from a public official who said he feels like he’s only reading half the story when there aren’t any comments.

BASS: “And this is a public official who gets criticized all the time. And he said I want to read the rest of the story, I want to know what people think.”

Just hours after the Independent announced its new policy, 16 new comments were already up on the site. Some of them were harsh: one reader wrote “I think this new approach will fall victim to your own biases and the comments will become an echo chamber of your beliefs.” Others wrote "welcome back" and thanked the editors for reconsidering. Another wrote “I promise to behave.”

For WNPR, I’m Neena Satija.