Starting next Monday, only home delivery or online subscribers to the Winnipeg Free Press will be able to post comments on the paper’s website.
“We want to keep the party-crashers out so those who’ve paid for the right to be part of the online conversation can do so without being turned off by yahoos spewing vile and bile,” writes editor Paul Samyn.
“The bulk of the ugliness that lands from time to time on our website comes from those abusing the ‘free’ in Free Press to engage in gutter talk or worse on our no-cost forum. In some cases, it appears people will register for a free account just to launch a drive-by smear and then never post again.”
The paper says its website gets about 80,000 comments a month. About 3% of them are flagged and half of those are deleted for violating terms and conditions.
UPDATE: Samyn tells Romenesko readers:
I don’t think we could have predicted that in four short days this would become the most commented story for the month of May. And given the way it is trending, it has the potential to become our most commented ever story. I think the volume of comments speaks to the passion of those who come to our online forum and the value they place in having a platform for their voice to be heard and shared.
What we certainly did expect was a lot of our audience slamming us for shutting them down, ending their “right” to express their views etc, etc. In fact, there is a movement on our website from some angry at me to block me from ever being able to post a comment again. Interesting. Right now, I would say roughly 60 per cent oppose the move.
But I am pleasantly surprised by the number of online readers who not only support the move, but also say they will be more inclined to read the comments and join the discussion surrounding what we publish. I am guessing that about 25 per cent back our move.
I asked Samyn how long he’s been considering this move.
I began discussing concerns about our online commenting with our newsroom last fall when I was named editor. I also began to hear directly from our readers who wanted to know why we were allowing our brand to be cheapened by the bile that sometimes landed on our website.
We made a decision that we would move in this direction at the end of 2012 but then had to do some homework with our digital services people to get our ducks in a row.