Remember that third-season episode of "Sex and The City" when the hardworking attorney, Miranda, finally gets fed up with the juvenile behavior of her bartender boyfriend, Steve?
"I'm so sick of you being the kid here," she says, frustrated. " . . . This isn't going to work, Steve."
"There's good stuff here," he protests.
"Not enough," she says.
That's where we stand at sacbee.com when it comes to public commenting on our site. We're in a rough spot with some of our readers. Feelings are being hurt, nasty words exchanged. Despite our rules against personal attacks, vulgarities, rudeness and just plain boorish behavior, people are engaging in just that, giving rise to a virtual breeding ground of taunts, name calling and ridicule that you'd find on a school yard -- except meaner.
Still, there is some good stuff here. Some people have used the comments to console families whose personal tragedies have made news, such as in the Sandra Cantu kidnap and murder case. Others have proffered news tips to our reporters who are investigating possible government waste or corporate corruption. Some are sincerely offering solutions to the myriad problems confronting our communities, from the drought to the state budget.
For those reasons and more, we are hesitant to take drastic measures to severely curtail - or simply do away - with commenting on our site, but we do want to clean up the commenting environment. I would like to hear from you on this issue. I've purposely suspended comments on this blog post and created a new forum where we can discuss this issue and others related to sacbee.com. Please follow this link to the forum to offer your thoughts. Sacbee.com does face some technical and staffing issues related to the monitoring of comments. I'll be happy to discuss those in the forum, but if we hear loudly enough from many of you on how you would like commenting to change, it will help us prioritize our work.
We will be looking to improve the tone of comments as well. So far, we've made our commenting rules more visible on story pages. And, while people always have had the ability to report abuses via the commenting system, we've made an email link to our Webmaster, firstname.lastname@example.org, a more prominent part of our posting rules.
Now, we know that is not enough. We're inquiring with our Web site hosting service whether we can have the "most recommended" comments display first under the stories instead of the "newest" comments. Currently, each user can use a drop-down menu to display the "most recommended" comments on any given story. I've tried it and I've gotten better results. Readers tend to reward or "recommend" comments that are genuine instead of mean-spirited. Give it a try and see if it works for you.
Our sister paper in Merced, The Sun-Star, is turning off comments on local stories after three days to help curtail the work load that comes with moderating an open-ended commenting system. The paper also has disallowed comments on molestation and rape cases, among others, because of the propensity of those stories to draw offensive remarks. Some at The Bee wonder that's a move we should adopt on all crime stories for that very reason.
Let us know what you think. If you like these ideas or you've got some of your own, share them in our new forum. I'll be there to listen and respond.