Enough with the vitriol; Chronicle turns off online commenting

The Chronicle has historically encouraged public dialogue, and we’ve viewed providing a space for that dialogue as vital to our role as a community newspaper.

For years, this newspaper has provided space in each edition, free of advertising, for our readers to offer their opinions in letters to the editor, so long as those authors were willing to sign their names and adhere to some simple and unobtrusive rules. We publish thousands of your letters each year.

In recent years, we have also allowed anonymous commenting on stories posted to our website at dailychronicle.com. Some of that discussion has been constructive and worthwhile, although I’m afraid meaningful comments have become the overwhelming exception rather than the norm.

Commenting on our website — and many others — I believe has come to typify an unfortunate trend in politics and discourse in our country. We’ve morphed from legitimate discussion and disagreement into name-calling and insults. I’m smart; you’re dumb. The politician I support is wonderful; you’re an idiot for not agreeing with me. Back and forth with little hope of thoughtful dialogue that helps shape our community.

“Ugly” is an apt description.

So, enough is enough. As of this morning, the Chronicle is turning off the commenting feature on our website.

Some will argue I’m infringing on their right to free speech. I disagree. You are still welcome to your opinions, and you’re still welcome to express them. However, the Chronicle will simply no longer provide an online venue for anonymous fury and vitriol. If that’s your thing, you’ll need to find another setting.

We will continue to post our stories onto Facebook and other social media sites where commenting is commonplace and where, I hope, transparency is more plausible. And, as always, you’re encouraged to write letters to the editor. Just please remember to sign your name.

I have no delusions that this decision will spur all of our readers to treat each other with respect and goodwill rather than scorn and hatred, but it does feel like a decent place to start. I hope you will view it as such.

We get so emotional

You've probably already noticed, but the Chronicle recently added emotional reactions to the bottom of articles on our website.

It's not a new concept. Sites like Buzzfeed have had that sort of emotional reaction-gathering ability for years. The concept is simple: You click on the button that most closely resembles your reaction to the story. 

What we hope is that people will use the new buttons as a way to engage with our stories that falls somewhere between just reading and leaving a full-on comment. The emotional reactions don't require you to be logged in or to have a subscription. All you've got to to is click.

But, you might ask, what happens to that data?

Right now, it just keeps a running emotional score for the story, but now that the reactions have been on the site for a couple weeks, we have started using them to display lists of the most loved or hated or wowed stories. You can already see some of those lists beginning to appear around the site.

Down the road, we might even be able to use reactions from logged-in users to suggest new stories they might want to read — all in the interest of bringing you stories you want to see. Rest assured, when that day comes, we'll update the site's privacy policy to reflect what happens to any new data we collect. 

I also have word from our website developers that they're considering adding a basic "like" button in addition to the emoticons available now, since many users have asked for a more generic reaction. I'm hoping they add that button as well, but it could be a few weeks or months off.

In the meantime, let me know in the comments what you think of the new buttons — or click on the emote buttons below this post and let me know that way.

The Chronicle starts a podcast

The Chronicle has had a mixed history when it comes to regularly producing audio content for our readers, but a little bit of luck on eBay may have just changed that.

Reporter Troy Carter, always one to jump into new media experiments, won an auction on eBay a while ago for a fairly nice microphone, which he had generously agreed to use to make recordings for the Chronicle.

What kind of recordings? A podcast.

What kind of podcast? Well, the exact format of this podcast isn't certain yet. Carter has done one with an "afternoon headlines" approach, and he has teamed up with environmental reporter Michael Wright for an interview style preview of Carter's Sunday page one story on the gas tax.

Take a listen to the two episodes and let us know what you think in the comments:

A Chronicle afternoon update on state Rep. Kelly McCarthy's attempt to "blast" House Bill 417 out of committee.
Chronicle Reporter Michael Wright interviews colleague Troy Carter about his coming story on a proposed state fuel tax increase that will be published on Sunday.

We're looking for ideas for what you'd like to hear out of a regular Chronicle podcast. Send your thoughts to me at becker@dailychronicle.com or let us know here in the comments. 

As for the podcast, we'll work to get more episodes online on a regular schedule. You can subscribe using this link in apps such as iTunes so you'll be notified of future episodes.

Thanks for listening. 

Jumble lovers rejoice, tone-deaf editor picks up clue phone

I always anticipate that I’ll hear from a few angry readers whenever the Chronicle tweaks its lineup of puzzles or comics, but the backlash for discontinuing the daily Jumble puzzle Tuesday was unprecedented.

Suffice it to say, if the weather had lacked snowdrifts and wind, I fully expect I would have been greeted at the office by pitch-forks and picket signs.

I fielded a few dozens calls and emails from those singing the praises of Jumble, most of them quite pleasant. One nice reader even offered to bring by cookies if I’d reconsider. Others?

Let’s just say I have no interest in being tarred and feathered by someone who sounded like she represented a large group of angry grandmothers.

So, dear readers, I humbly relent. You’ll find the Jumble back in today’s Chronicle, tucked into the classified section where you will find it in each and every edition, as long as I live and breathe. In Wednesday’s paper, it’s on page D6.

And, if you’re wondering, I have a strong preference for oatmeal and chocolate chips.

Editor loses mind, totally messes with the comics

Death, taxes and, every few years — for no apparent good reason — the editor of the local newspaper decides to mess with the comics page. Indeed, these are the times that try readers’ souls.

First, and this is important, breathe.

From what I can tell, this is not another sign of a pending apocalypse. While you will — apparently — still have to file your taxes, the sun will rise over the Bridgers tomorrow morning, and the Chronicle will continue to publish a crossword puzzle. All is not lost.

So, you may ask why, dear editor, are you mucking around with my daily routine, the thing I most love about your newspaper? An April Fools’ Day primer? More of that fake news? Have you lost your marbles? No, no, and it depends on who you ask.

Foremost, we’re making these changes because we see them as improvements. Careful readers will remember the last time the Chronicle made wholesale changes to its comics pages — just a few years ago — we added the likes of Pickles, Tundra, Argyle Sweater, Baby Blues and Zits, now viewed as among our most popular offerings. Relax. Those are all staying, and I’m hopeful and confident that you’ll come to appreciate in the same light some of the new strips that make their debut in today’s Chronicle. We think we’ve put together a lineup of the very best comic strips currently available to our nation’s newspapers.

Part of making room for new comics, unfortunately, is culling some of the others. I’ll miss in the daily pages some of the older, legacy strips like Peanuts and Beetle Bailey. But fear not; we’ve saved space for some of those on our revamped Sunday comic pages that will be unveiled this weekend.

Our puzzles and games are staying mostly the same. We are replacing the daily Los Angeles Times crossword with one we think will resonate more with our readers. And because some readers have complained that the crossword was too small and difficult to read, we’re making the new one bigger. We’ve also taken steps that we believe will significantly reduce the production errors that have historically plagued our crossword puzzles. You’re welcome.

We’re also introducing two new puzzles, Seven Little Words and Word Game, in place of Jumble. For this, I wish to publicly apologize to my mother-in-law, who deeply, deeply loves the Jumble. I’ll try to find some way to make things right.

And while we are bringing back Pearls Before Swine at the great urging of many readers, I am compelled to point out that — as much as we wish it so — we can’t revive Calvin and Hobbes, Bloom County or The Far Side. Those artists closed shop long ago. Likewise, Gary Trudeau quit producing a daily strip a few years back. So while I love a good conspiracy theory, the absence of Doonesbury on our daily pages has nothing to do with the current political climate. I think.

Those things being said, I always appreciate your feedback, both the good and the bad. If you are so moved, feel free to email me at nehli@dailychronicle.com or call my direct line at 582-2647. We’ll get through this together. I promise.

Nick Ehli, Chronicle managing editor