We've pulled the plug on article commenting on The Berkshire Eagle's website and instead made it convenient to share your comments with us.
Many will rejoice in this decision to close down online comments. Some will complain.
We're out to raise the quality of discussion about the people, places and things covered on our website. And while we like to blaze trails around here lately, we're following a growing list of news sites to drop online commenting over concerns about tone, incivility and abuse.
So here is the alternative (and really, it's not an alternative, but a tested, tried-and-true institution of communication): Write us a letter.
We've replaced our online commenting sections with two links at the ends of articles online.
Click on the first link to email the newsroom and communicate with editors directly. If you have a comment — a tip or a question — about the article, share it with us.
Click on the second link and compose a letter to the editor using a simple form. If you have an important message to share with the community, send us a letter. Provided it meets our publication guidelines — which are explained daily on the opinion page and on the online form — we'll publish it in the opinion sections in print and online. We're hoping we'll see more letters from you.
The fact is that online comments have degenerated the news experience on our websites. Part of the issue is what's called the "online disinhibition effect," and it posits that a person, given the cloak of anonymity, would write something online that they'd never dare say in person.
Every other bit of information under our publishing control undergoes a careful vetting process. And though we've maintained and continue to maintain that commenters own their comments, the robust discussion that could have taken hold in a news discussion seldom took place.
In some cases, the online comments have had a chilling effect on people's desire to contribute meaningfully to a productive discussion of the issues. In other cases, sources have objected to telling their stories for fear of reprisal in the comments. We no longer want that to deteriorate our site or our readers' experience with it or impede the news.
Larger media companies, like the New York Times, are able to employ a team of people to moderate reader comments to "keep them on-topic and not abusive," before they are published at the end of articles; it's a 24-7 job.
For smaller news outfits like us, that's just not practical. We had moderation controls on the online commenting tool dashboard, and while it filtered swear words just fine, it couldn't hold back nasty comments by people adept at sneaking past the syntax sentries.
You can still comment on the many articles that we post every day to the Eagle's Facebook feed. Keep in mind that we do reserve the right to remove comments from our Facebook feed that break boundaries of taste and civility.
You also have the option to share any Eagle article on your own Facebook feed and comment on it in any way you wish. The same goes for other social media platforms like Twitter.
Kevin Moran is the editor of The Eagle and vice president of news for New England Newspapers Inc. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.