The main issue is the negative comments on just about every story. It doesn't take long for discussions to turn personal, nasty, inappropriate and counterproductive to our efforts of promoting positive dialogue about Racine. Our challenge is addressing these comments without stifling debate and reader interaction, which is immensely helpful in running a news website. (For example, JJ McAuliffe corrected one of my stories this morning. I made the change the story is more accurate for it.)
We delete comments on a fairly regular basis. Nearly all of those comments are an unsubstantiated attack on someone's personal character, but we have no set policy. It's like the Supreme Court ruling on obscenity: We know an offensive comment when we see it.
Other comments we let stand, but respond to. For example, I jumped in on Alderman Bob Mozol's behalf because my experience is he's a sincere, hard-working politician who deserves better than to be insulted by an anonymous blogger. But he's also an elected official subject to public ridicule; it's part of the job. Same with comments about the Post. We generally let them stand because we believe in giving people their say. But we don't expect everyone to take on a thick skin; that's not fair of us to ask.
So that's the problem and our current responses to negative comments. Hardly satisfying, right? I'd like to propose a new alternative. We are shifting to a registration system, but it's taking awhile to work out the bugs and there's no guarantee it'll stop the negative comments (ie. The Journal Times).
From what I can tell, negative commenters make up about 10 percent of our readership. They're a vocal 10 percent, but they're definitely outnumbered. It's up to the rest of us to drown out their voices. We all support and believe in our community, so let's say so. If you see a negative comment, respond with something overtly positive. Here's some examples:
- I love North Beach. What a great resource for Racine.
- The triathlon is in town this weekend. What a great event!
- First Friday was hopping last month. Can't wait for the next one!
On a related note, I'm thinking through a letter-writing idea that focuses on what we like about the city. We'd create a written record of the many wonderful things about Racine, from Kewpee's to Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, to the REC center and so on. If we can create a written history of what we love and support in Racine, officials in power will have something to rely on if they ever need to make a decision about the Zoo, the library, Monument Square, farmer's markets, the Root River, golf courses, etc.
But more on that later ... for now, let's try hard to keep it positive.