Oh, the comments
But a New York Times article sheds light on the fact that many papers are revisiting their policies.
That is refreshing because I don't see an easy answer to the problem. Too much registration (asking for phone numbers and such) will turn people away.
We want to provide an open forum for people to say what is on their minds. And you can see how people really feel about something by the comments. Often, though, it can be ugly.
Out of the muck, I've seen many good things: information coming out from breaking stories, insight into how the community feels about a topic (oh, smoking in public places, I never knew you were such a hot subject), heartfelt condolences over losses, anxieties about economy and the impact on families' lives, and how residents in one area feel about other areas.
Too often, though, it can be racist and crude. And those commenters will either drive away people seeking thoughtful insight and healthy debate OR they will drive away the open forum.
So let's see where this goes and I'll continue to explore what we can do to improve this.
Oh, and I love the concept of ranking comments by the insight and thoughtfulness of the commenter, as the Washington Post is exploring. Like Facebook and Twitter, it will certainly encourage healthy debate. Hooray for technology.
These are not going away, so it is our job to make sure it's done as well as possible, and readers are now part of the stories. We can't change that; we shouldn't change that. But we'll encourage it by giving them a better, and easier, way to participate.