Attacks on anonymous comments are attacks on free speech, according to Barton Cromeens, editor of the Abilene (Texas) Reporter-News.
He wrote earlier this month that the problem with reader comments is not that many are anonymous, but that most media outlets have failed to properly manage their communities:
“Instead of joining the conversation and providing thoughtful perspective and enhancing dialogue (a role of the free press that was instrumental in the birth of our democracy), media companies withdrew.
“Conversation, at times, went awfully awry and online commentary became synonymous with the offenses of the minority rather than the benefits rendered by and for the majority.”
(Others have made similar arguments before.) Cromeens admits the Reporter-News has not been an exception to the rule, but reports that the paper is now taking urgent steps to “responsibly” maintain the right to anonymous free speech for its readers.
The paper plans to create an online community editorial board to assist in the review of discussions, and will also train its entire newsroom in the process and standards of moderating reader comments.
As Cromeens points out, this is an experiment that recognizes the value and potential of engagement, not one that demonizes all readers simply for the bad acts of a small minority.