One of our efforts to create a dialogue with the community is allowing readers to register screen names with our website and post comments on our stories.
In terms of sheer numbers, it appears to be successful. As I write this at 5:47 p.m. Wednesday, 345 comments were posted during the day -- I know this because I am one of a few people here who receive e-mails each time a comment is posted.
As I read through many of the comments, I realize most of the dialogue occurs among the posters, although I often learn from them. And because our posters maintain daily contacts with one another, they seem to have lost some of the cloak of anonymity.
In fact, some of the posters are readily recognizable. One of our new editorial page columnists, Steve Berryman, for one, uses a screen name that is recognizable.
Others seem to hide themselves in their screen names and enjoy posting their views on specific stories on our website. Most comments are acceptable.
A few are anything but. For instance, Ben Roethlisberger's suspension story drew a slew of comments that included vulgar, defamatory language. I applaud the posters who drew those comments to our attention so we could delete them -- we are not always able to track all the comments as they are posted -- I'm overseeing the news desk's production of Thursday's pages while writing this and policing some of the comments the best I can.
Earlier today, a poster decided to change the letter i in an offensive word to the number 1, figuring it would get past filters and screeners. Another screener decided to do the same by adding an a to another offensive word to see it posted. In both cases, others drew our attention to the offending posts, allowing us to delete them.
The issue of how much dialogue to allow is not limited to us at The Frederick News-Post.
But guess what? Journalists are starting their own dialogues. Those involve trying to figure out a way to bring back civility and limit those comfortable with taking pot shots while staying hidden.
Journalists in Cleveland have an interesting dilemma regarding a poster's right to privacy. The Plain Dealer took the bold step of naming the person who holds the e-mail account linked to comments posted as "lawmiss" on its website. The e-mail address belongs to a Cuyahoga County Common Pleas judge. Newspaper executives decided to unmask "lawmiss" after determining the poster commented on specific high-profile cases ruled on by the judge.
The story took a turn when the judge's daughter, a former law student, said she was responsible for the "lawmiss" postings, but could not remember how many times she did. Trust me, I'll be paying attention to this case as it unfolds, but don't expect "fredericknewseditor" to post any comments here or elsewhere.
So why tell the story?
No, we do not have any plans to expose anyone posting on our website anytime soon.
For those out there who see a need to post something containing vulgar language, personal or racial attacks, figuring your identity will remain safe, ask yourself this: Would I say this out loud in a crowd where no one knew me, but the person standing next to me could identify me as the culprit?
You would never do that. Please don't do it on the website. It detracts from an otherwise acceptable dialogue.