Inside NCNow: Why we don’t allow viewer comments
Sunday, January 20, 2013 - 4:44 pm

By BILL SHUMWAY

Many NorthCountryNow.com viewers wish we would allow comments on our stories, but that’s not going to happen any time soon.

Monitoring comments for foul language, libel, name-calling and tasteless submissions 24 hours a day, seven days a week would take too much time for our small news staff.

We’d rather put our efforts into researching, writing, editing and posting new stories about St. Lawrence County and updating NorthCountryNow.com many times every day.

Unfortunately, as many media outlets nationwide have discovered, viewer comments often quickly spiral downward into personal attacks and inappropriate language.

Some of the worst examples are the Topix.com “local news and discussion forums” for virtually every community in the U.S. It’s not uncommon to see talk of who is sleeping with who and multiple slurs against people. We don’t want to host a site where people call others “scum,” “leach” and much worse.

It’s also interesting that many “mainstream” newspapers that require attribution for all facts and only run letters to the editor from people willing to sign their name still allow comments.

A Canton viewer called the other day upset that a story we linked to from another media outlet included comments that appeared to slander a local government official quoted in the story.

It seems unfair that someone willing to be interviewed for and identified in a story can then be subject to anonymous, sometimes inaccurate comments.

Some websites have abandoned viewer comments altogether. Others now require registration or other means of identification – but those steps have drastically reduced the number of comments, both good and bad.

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Ironically, North Country This Week, our weekly newspaper distributed in the greater Canton-Potsdam area, was the first in St. Lawrence County to regularly publish anonymous reader comments.

Our popular “Sound Off” column, which also appears on NorthCountryNow.com at http://northcountrynow.com/sound_off, dates back to the late 1980s.

But unlike many viewer comments on websites, submissions to “Sound Off” are selected and edited by our staff for appropriateness, accuracy and overall tone. Many submissions are never published because they include personal attacks, incorrect information or are just plain tasteless or repetitive.

A number of readers tell us “Sound Off” is one of their favorite sections to read; others scold us for allowing people to make comments without signing their name. Some viewers feel we have not edited stringently enough.

Still, “Sound Off” can sometimes play a role in raising legitimate issues for public discourse.

Many times, people with a well-reasoned viewpoint to share are unwilling to do so for fear of alienating their employer, neighbors, acquaintances or even family members. “Sound Off” provides an opportunity for them to publicize their points of view without risking “fallout” from making a public statement by name.

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Just a short time remains to participate in our viewer survey, which we will use to continue to improve our website.

Nearly 1,000 people have participated so far, but if you aren’t one of them, we’d appreciate your input.

To take the survey, just visit www.surveymonkey.com/s/RS9WZWK

The survey will end Monday afternoon.