Anxious to lift an outright ban on comments, the Attleboro Sun-Chronicle has begun requiring two things of online readers who want to leave their thoughts on stories: 99 cents and their real names.
While the change is drawing criticism from some quarters, it is a fascinating experiment and a bold response to the endless trolling, vitriol and drivel that is enabled by anonymity in online forums.
Pay little attention to the 99 cents, it's not important here. The fee is a one-time payment designed not to generate revenue, this isn't about "saving newspapers", but to enable identity verification at initial sign-up and whenever registered readers leave comments.
From the newspaper's story announcing the decision: "This change is being made, (publisher Oreste) D'Arconte said, in an attempt 'to eliminate past excesses that included blatant disregard for our appropriateness guidelines, blind accusations and unsubstantiated allegations... This is a necessary step, in my opinion, if The Sun Chronicle is going to continue to provide a forum for comments on our websites.' "
Comments had been suspended since April 12.
Reasonable people may disagree with D'Arconte on whether this step is necessary. The benefits of allowing anonymous comments are well known and vigorously defended. But what's interesting is that this newspaper weighed the pros and cons of anonymity and decided that the costs outweigh the benefits.
That seems perfectly reasonable to me, too. Let's see how the newspaper's readers respond.
(Disclaimer: The Attleboro Sun Chronicle is the newspaper of my youth. I delivered it as a child, was a high school friend of its editor, and still read it whenever I visit my Dad. In a very real sense it contributed to my choice of career and it will always occupy a special place in my heart.)
Town official doubly insulted by spyware allegation
How dare you accuse me of being a stumblebum of a spy? That's essentially the indignant reaction of Sturbridge Selectman Tom Creamer to fellow board member Scott Garieri's allegation that Creamer intentionally sent him a spyware-laden email.
Here's the setup from a story in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette: "On June 21, Mr. Garieri said at a selectmen's meeting his 'IT guy' (which, he said, this week is the same person who hooked up his printer) picked up spyware attached to emails sent by Mr. Creamer. Given Mr. Creamer's "prior employment history" of making others' 'personal information available,' Mr. Garieri said, he felt it necessary to block all of Mr. Creamer's incoming emails."
The story describes Creamer as having been "a consultant" to the US Department of Justice, but for purposes of this column we will leap to the entirely unsupported assumption that he was a full-blown government spook. Because not only does Creamer categorically deny sending any spyware, he contends that the mere fact that Garieri's "IT guy" suspects him of doing so is proof he did not because, are you following me here, if he had he would have left no fingerprints. He's that good.
More from the story: "Based on (my) prior background in intelligence, believe me, if I had something attached to (the email), your people would never find it, so let's not be ridiculous," Mr. Creamer responded that night. "That's such an insult to me."
How's that for an air-tight defense?