Creating a bold, new
Sun Journal changes rules
for making online comments
American illustrator Norman Rockwell painted what many consider his masterpiece during World War II, a series of magazine illustrations called "The Four Freedoms."
The first oil painting, titled “Freedom of Speech,” shows a man wearing a flannel shirt and a worn jacket standing among a group of seated adults.
He is addressing the group, his head held high and a folded copy of his town’s annual report in his jacket pocket.
It is a classic New England town meeting, the purest form of democracy, one man, one voice, one vote, citizens debating other citizens.
The obligation to stand behind your words has also been a core principle of journalism and this newspaper for many years.
The Sun Journal does not use unidentified sources in stories. When our readers write a column or letter to the editor for the newspaper they use their real names.
That, we believe, makes them accountable for what they say, plus it adds weight and credibility to their words.
But we have deviated from that principle for the Web, believing for several years that “online” was somehow different than “in print.” Nearly all newspapers have.
While we have known the identity of many people commenting on stories at sunjournal.com, it was difficult or impossible for users to know. As a result, some comments have been factually incorrect, reckless and mean-spirited.
While the technology of the Web is very different, our core principles should remain the same.
Both our website and print newspaper are, in fact, like a town meeting or community gathering.
So, beginning Feb. 1 all online comments at sunjournal.com will be accompanied by the real names of the people commenting. Only registered and verified users will be able to make comments. Anonymous comments will not be allowed.
All commenters, including subscribers and those registered now, will have to re-register under the new system.
Many newspapers, including the Portland Press Herald and the Bangor Daily News, are now taking steps to make Web commenting more responsible and accountable.
But our new system is the most ambitious effort we’ve seen to elevate the level of online discussion.
Plus, most of our current commenters seem to agree. In an online survey, 57 percent said they would prefer that real names accompany online comments.
The Sun Journal’s motto is “Connecting you with your community,” and for more than 160 years this newspaper has knit together Western Maine communities.
The advent of the Web has given us powerful new ways to connect people and allow anyone to become an active part of every discussion.
We know this decision will not please everyone. In time, however, we believe it will result in a better online experience for all.