Readers will notice something missing from the Empire’s website Sunday when they click on stories, even those in our archives. All past reader comments, every last one them, will be gone. New comments will be paired with the writer’s real name.
After repeated and numerous requests from the community, the Empire has decided to move away from anonymous commenting on its website. It’s a transition our readers have asked for and one we have worked diligently over the past several months to see to fruition. That isn’t to say readers can’t comment on stories at all. On the contrary, reader comments and feedback are still welcome, but those doing so will now have to post comments under their real name. Furthermore, commenting will be restricted to subscribers only.
The media industry as a whole is realizing that free speech without accountability is anything but free. The cost is a lack of civility and respect toward members of our community. That price is too high, and we are not alone in that feeling.
Many media companies, from Google to the Huffington Post and even Youtube, are moving away from anonymous commenting, according to a Dec. 26, 2013 article by the Associated Press. About half of the 137 largest newspapers in the U.S. have ceased anonymous commenting, according to the article.
Some will likely see this as an obstruction to free speech, though it is anything but. Individuals can still speak their mind within the boundary of our online commenting policy. The difference is the level of accountability for what is said.
Readers who have news tips and information of a sensitive nature can still share it with the newspaper without fear of being outed. As journalists, we have an ethical and moral responsibility to protect the identities of those who share information. Shield Laws protect journalists so they, in turn, are able to protect sources of information, even in courts of law. If you have a news tip but wish to keep your identity anonymous, call us at 586-3740 and ask to speak to a reporter or editor. Managing Editor Charles Westmoreland can be reached directly at 523-2265.
We want people to share ideas and opinions. It’s our hope that by holding individuals accountable for what they post, the comments section can become what it was intended to be — a forum for civilized discussion and debate.