Lowell Sun: Disqus in; Topix out

Perhaps I should wait until tomorrow for this post, because I have something positive to say about the Lowell Sun and a day when the temperature might not rise above 0 degrees would be somehow appropriate for that. But this news is too important to wait.

The Sun is discontinuing Topix, its online comment feature where comments often rivaled those found on the stall of a public restroom in their crudity. The newspaper itself acknowledges this in today’s article:

The Sun’s previous comment board was not moderated, and some commenters were posting remarks that ranged from abusive to racist. The cloak of anonymity enabled too many to make the kind of remarks they would never make if they were required to identify themselves.
The Sun seeks a civil debate on the issues of the day, and there is no lack of those issues locally, statewide, nationally and internationally. Views that are counter to those of The Sun’s editorial page are welcomed and encouraged, but the vile statements that too often marred the online comments section in the past are not.

In place of Topix, the Sun will launch Disqus, an application already in use by many other media websites. People wishing to comment are invited to create a verified Disqus account. Once that’s done, your comments will go up on the site immediately (along with your identity). You may also use Facebook, Twitter, OpenID or Yahoo accounts to comment in this way. If you want to remain anonymous, you can, but comments submitted that way will go into a moderation queue and, even if they make it onto the site, their appearance will be delayed.

Topix was a bit like a car wreck: it was tempting to look at because it provided a cheap, irrational thrill at someone else’s expense. Any kind of meaningful community discussion was snuffed out on Topix by the bullies who flourished in its anonymity. The various blogs in Lowell have demonstrated that reader comments can greatly enrich the discussion of a topic while retaining civility. The local newspaper – and by extension the entire community – could only benefit from transitioning to a similar environment. So congratulations to the Sun on making this switch.

7 Responses to Lowell Sun: Disqus in; Topix out

  1. Jack Mitchell says:

    I plan on holding off from engaging there. I’ll lurk, but not post.

    It bugs me that the Sun is a profit center and that thoughtful incite provided by readers will effectively subsidize the paper. Sure, the ability to counter the specious assertions and editorial slant is seductive to me, and I’m sure others.

    But for free? While they get paid to “inform?”

    I’d rather give to those that give themselves. Blog On!

  2. DickH says:

    I understand your point Jack but the fact that the Sun is a for-profit enterprise doesn’t both me. If any of the local blogs made the leap from hobby to business, I’d be supportive as I would be if Patch or Wicked Local or any of the other attempts to replace traditional newspapers tried to make a go of it in Lowell.

    Certainly the anticipated benefits of Disqus will have to be judged over time, but it can’t be any more cancerous to the community than Topix so that’s got to be a plus. Besides, when you make a comment on Disqus, just embed a link to the blog post on which you’ve already commented. That will not only bring more sets of eyes to your blog comment, it will drive the powers-that-be at the Sun crazy.

  3. DickH says:

    Here’s an excerpt from an article in Monday’s paper with further explanation of the reasons for the change (the article is not yet on the Sun’s website):

    “Newspapers have fumbled with the reins on comments and blog postings since the wonderful thing called the Internet let communication and connection loose at lightspeed. . . . Before we knew it, anonymous posting had become like a public toilet: Lots of people passing through and leaving a mess. . . . anonymous commenting on stories has run amok, scattering expletives, insults, incorrect observations and vitriol through our community like trash thrown anonymously from the window of a speeding car. Casual racism, sexism, ageism and hate speech have become the norm.”

    The story then reiterates that under the new system, comments must first register or may post directly through their own Facebook pages and those who wish to stay anonymous will have to wait until an editor OK’s their comments.

  4. DickH says:

    I just left my first comment on Disqus, complimenting the Sun on this switch. I decided to use my Twitter account although you can also use Facebook or sign up for a Disqus account. With Twitter, you click that icon and a popup box asks if Disqus can connect with your Twitter account. Click “yes” and you’re directed to a comment box for your text with @yourname underneath. Once you’re done composing, another click posts it to the story.

  5. Rena says:

    There was another story yesterday about Topix on a Kentucky television station and how it continues to destroy lives. You did the right thing, Topix is evil.