Sunday, July 22 , 2018, 1:48 am | Fair 67º


Local News

Bill Macfadyen: As Noozhawk Enters 2018, We’re Eliminating Reader Comments on Our Stories

As of today, Noozhawk is permanently disabling reader comments on our website. Happy New Year.

This is not a choice that we made lightly or considered rashly. As I’ve stated many times over the last 10 years, Noozhawk generally takes a libertarian view of free speech.

We believe that the First Amendment enshrined in our Constitution is one of our country’s greatest strengths, and that it is just as critical today — if not more so — than when our nation was founded more than two centuries ago.

But just because you can say anything you please, doesn’t mean that you should.

We get that not everyone can handle the responsibility of freedom, which is why we imposed some pretty straightforward terms of use. Things like be civil; don’t be abusive, defamatory or racially disparaging; no taunting, harassment or profanity. There was nothing too difficult to comprehend.

But it has been undeniable that most commenters believed our rules were for other people, and not for themselves. Not only did our story comments provide little actual information of use or interest to the vast majority of our readers, they were mostly vile, tiresomely repetitive, grossly speculative and often flat-out hate speech.

Nearly all were left by sanctimonious scolds too cowardly to use their own names.

The result was a toxic atmosphere that no sane person would wish to brave. What a shame.

As Noozhawk’s founder, this is a decision I’ve resisted making for a long, long time. I’m an optimist, and I kept hoping that commenters would rise to some semblance of responsibility. That was my mistake, and I’m sorry for it.

In a perfect world, our readers would simply respect our rules and each other. A civil society should expect no less than that basic level of human decency and common sense.

I certainly expected it.

As you know, ours is a very small staff, and I want to keep our team focused on Noozhawk’s core mission, which is to report the news of our community. I don’t want to divert scarce resources to monitor and moderate commentary by people who insist on taking advantage of our generosity, exploiting our system and hijacking our hard work.

And I shouldn’t have to; this isn’t third grade.

We concluded, however, that such a heavy commitment was one of two realistic ways to protect our website, our content, our brand and the community respect we have worked diligently to earn.

The other way is the new trail we’re forging as the pioneers we’ve always been. Whereas freedom of speech is a right we all enjoy as Americans, it is a privilege on Noozhawk. Reader comments, as you’ve known them, aren’t coming with us in 2018.

I can hear the caterwauling now, but as President Ronald Reagan was fond of saying, “The dogs bark. The parade passes.”

The truth is that far fewer than one-half of 1 percent of our 19,000 daily readers leaves a comment, and of that infinitesimal number, the posts are dominated by about two dozen people. You know the screen names they hide behind, and we both know they won’t be missed.

What’s Next?

Our decision does not mean we’re abandoning reader engagement — far from it. Beginning Saturday, we’re introducing two new methods to have a constructive conversation with Team Noozhawk and our community of readers, and reintroducing two others.

First, managing editor Giana Magnoli and I are developing a new weekly column called Making the Nooz. The blog-style column will be posted each Saturday, and will include a curated sampling of the interactions we have with our readers via emails, texts, voice mails, one-on-one conversations, letters to the editor, Facebook posts and Twitter messages, and our Noozhawk Asks platform.

With the occasional assistance of executive editor Tom Bolton, we’ll also be providing additional details and insights while responding to reader questions about our reporting and our coverage. Our intention is to be more open about what we do while establishing a deeper connection with you.

As longtime readers know, I’m scornful of what I call Fossil Media, so you can imagine how painfully ironic this next announcement is for me: We’re inviting the submission of Old School letters to the editor, complete with authenticated real names, that we’ll publish in a weekly compendium each Saturday. It’s clunky and will require some extra effort on our part, but we do value reader feedback and viewpoints — we just prefer them to be cordial and transparent.

For years, the Los Angeles Times sports section has been relying on such a compilation of reader letters, so we’ll see if we can have similar success.

Letters to the editor can be emailed to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Meanwhile, 2018 will see a renewed focus on the aforementioned Noozhawk Asks, which is sponsored by our partner, Community West Bank. Our Reimagine: Santa Barbara project will be resuming in earnest in a couple of weeks, and Noozhawk Asks is a key piece of that puzzle as we make the transition to reader suggestions for the future of downtown Santa Barbara.

As a reminder, questions from actual people are a higher priority for us than anonymous submissions. Do you see the trend here?

Our team has also promised me that they’ll be more attentive to our Facebook feed and our other social media platforms, and the questions, tips and comments readers leave there. We acknowledge that Facebook can be frustrating and that many readers are resistant to it, but we appreciate its policy of requiring real names — well, aside from suspicious Russian accounts.

Finally, by this time next week, we’ll be fully moved into our new offices at Impact HUB, at 1117 State St. in downtown Santa Barbara. Beginning in February, we’ll be holding a monthly Public Newsroom so our team can interact with you face to face ... over food and drinks.

As I’ve said previously, in this era of “fake news” and general distrust of the news media, we want to do more to explain and demystify how Noozhawk does things, and why.

I am very grateful for the reputation Noozhawk and our team have established in this community for reporting the truth, objectively and fairly, and we are committed to responsible professional journalism.

We stand by the local news stories we write and are proud to put our names on them. We trust you will join us and do the same.

Whether you agree or disagree, click here to contact me. When you do, please indicate whether we have permission to include it as a Letter to the Editor.

— Bill Macfadyen is Noozhawk’s founder and publisher. Contact him at [email protected], follow him on Twitter: @noozhawk and Instagram: @bill.macfadyen, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

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Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

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