Comments on temporarily suspended

New comments system a work in progress

Staff report

ROCKINGHAM — Following a series of high-profile original reporting on that generated a wide variety of comments from readers — including some that went too far — Post Managing Editor Kevin Spradlin has temporarily disabled comments on news articles and columns.

“A new system should be up in the very near future,” Spradlin said Wednesday after a number of people expressed concern to the Post and fellow readers. “We have no desire to curtail anyone’s right to free speech, but on the business side of things we have to take steps to help ensure any comments aren’t libelous.”

Kevin Spradlin |

Kevin Spradlin |

Failing to monitor such comments could expose the Post to some legal liability, Spradlin said. And as much as readers have the right to free speech, the private business that is has the right and obligation to ensure a fair commenting system that protects the business and those who choose to comment from personal attacks.

“It was a difficult choice to click the button to disable commenting,” Spradlin said, “but it’s only temporary. Our new system will allow readers to continue to engage in highly interesting give-and-take, just as before — only with a bit more accountability.”

There is no definitive date when the new system will be in place, “but readers will know it the day it takes hold,” Spradlin said.

The new system is likely to require an enhanced registration system that is more likely to authenticate a person’s identity before allowing the comment to be published.

“This goes back to the days of the original letter to the editor in traditional print newspapers,” Spradlin said. “While that remains a very valuable space in any newspaper, including The Pee Dee Post, what’s different in today’s media is that many readers choose to comment anonymously. Those comments are that harmless, on either side of a given issue, aren’t the problem. It becomes a problem when the system is abused. That happened only a few times, but one person in particular tried to publish attack comments under several different aliases. I find that inherently unfair and inappropriate.”

Recent stories, highlighted by the report of the first legal same-sex marriage performed in Richmond County on Oct. 13, generated a large amount of viscous, hate-filled vitriol, Spradlin said. Almost every single such comment was made anonymously, something the Post is hoping to discourage when the new commenting system is in place.

“Disagreement is one thing, but we hope to help keep the dialogue civil,” Spradlin said. “After all, people of all ages and backgrounds read the Post and we want them to feel comfortable reading and engaging in the discussion. There are many different ways to disagree with someone. Unfortunately, some were taking a path we wished they wouldn’t. We’ll never eliminate entirely the hate-filled speech that goes nowhere other than straight to personal attacks, but we can do our best.”

Spradlin has researched the many ways newspapers, print or online-only with active websites, have handled the situation in years past. It’s not a new problem, Spradlin said.

“Some newspapers have permanently disabled commenting,” Spradlin said. “At this point, I don’t think that’s the right way to go. On the other hand, this five-month-old business is not flush with cash to the point that I can pay someone to sit at a computer eight to 10 hours a day and monitor comments.” and its related Facebook page has become, since April 28, the public water cooler for community conversation — exactly what the Post hopes to continue.

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  • Frutke

    There we go. Done!
    Commenting is enabled once again!

  • Ric Buckner

    I am a supporter of freedom of the press. I am glad you have the right to publish anything you choose. That is one of the things that has made America great. But it is your press outlet, and you don’t have the obligation to print anything. If people want to express themselves with hate, please deny them the use of your soap box. Let them start their own press outlet to spread hate if they must. Kudos to you, Mr. Editor, for behaving responsibly by editing responsibly.

  • Randall Benton

    Ric Buckner…..I agree!

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