About six weeks ago I asked the users of our website, sunjournal.com, to do something radically different — to begin attaching their real names when commenting on stories.
Today, on the eve of switching to the new system, I am happy to say that your response has exceeded even our most optimistic expectations.
More than 600 people have gone through the simple verification process and are poised to start using the new commenting system tomorrow.
When I first announced the change, we privately told ourselves we would be happy to have 60 people signed up by Feb. 1. As you can see, 10 times that number have responded.
So, thank you for confirming, in more ways than one, that we are doing the right thing.
Many of us in the newsroom have made verification calls to readers and we have been touched and rewarded by the experience.
First, many of you told us that the change is long overdue, and that you too had been offended by the tone of anonymous commenting.
Moreover, many of you told us how much you enjoy the Sun Journal and sunjournal.com, and how you rely upon it for community news.
We also enjoyed talking to the many local residents who are now living in other states. It was interesting to see how avidly they stay connected to the region through sunjournal.com.
We were also surprised how upbeat and supportive users are about the Sun Journal and sunjournal.com. Thank you for expressing that.
As I said in my original column, this is an unusual step for a newspaper website. Our industry seems to have settled for quantity of commenting over quality, trading meaningful expression for acrimonious banter.
Some in the industry have even predicted our experiment will fail and that people will no longer comment on our stories.
During this process, we also discovered more reasons why anonymous commenting is often harmful and unfair.
In one case recently, a young rape victim was identified by an anonymous commenter on a story. While this could be done even by a verified user, we hope it is now more unlikely to happen.
In another case, we found one user in the system who was using nine separate IDs while commenting.
Sometimes she deceptively used the multiple IDs to make it appear as if many people agreed with her opinions.
But the best reason to eliminate anonymous commenting is the simplest. When people stand behind their words, they have a greater stake in making sure they are thoughtful, civil and accurate.
We hope you will join that new conversation.