Comments on a new Messenger policy

As a community newspaper, The Messenger strives to engage with its readers. We appreciate the opportunity to be a part of the lives of thousands who turn to us for the latest local news.

Like many newspapers making the transition to the digital age of journalism, The Messenger has allowed readers to directly comment on stories published on our website, in the hope of opening a new forum for meaningful discourse.

In this case, our hopes do not always conform with reality.

For the past several years, I have been charged with monitoring the comments posted to The Messenger’s web site.

By and large, the experience has been appalling.

Rather than promoting civil discussion, comments regularly degenerated into a vehicle for misinformation, malicious statements and outright lies to be spread anonymously. Time and again, offensive comments were removed. Time and again, entire comment threads were deactivated after spiraling into libelous hatred.

The time for such nonsense is over.

Beginning today, The Messenger will discontinue online comments.

For those who believe online comments are an entitlement protected by the First Amendment – an argument I’ve heard numerous times while explaining to a commenter why his or her privileges were revoked – this is not the case. Privately owned newspapers are free to develop commenting policies as they see fit.

Nor should our actions be construed as a means to stifle opinions – including opinions that do not match our own. The Messenger continues to encourage readers to submit signed letters to the editor, which are regularly published in print and online. Additionally, the email addresses of our writers appear in every bylined article. Anyone who wishes to have his or her opinions heard may use these channels.

Constructive feedback on published stories, as well as suggestions on issues and events that warrant coverage, aid in our goal of publishing balanced, accurate, responsible and fair information.

All too often, online commenters have undermined this goal. They will do so no longer.

Jesse Helling is city editor of The Messenger.