A Penny for Your Thoughts. Actually, Make That 99 Cents: Mass. Paper Charging for Comments

By: E&P Staff

The Sun Chronicle in Attleboro, Mass., seems to have found the ideal way to police comments on its Web site: charge those who wish to comment, and make them register using their real names.

Announced today on the Sun Chronicle’s Web site, the move seeks to discourage those who would post obnoxious comments on stories – and gain the paper a little added revenue in the process. All posters now are required to register their name, address, phone number and a legitimate credit card number, and pay a 99-cent fee. Registration begins at noon today.

In a story published on the paper’s site today, Publisher Oreste P. D’Arconte told his paper the new policy is being enacted in order to “eliminate past excesses that included blatant disregard for our appropriateness guidelines, blind accusations and unsubstantiated allegations.”

Posters who violate the paper’s guidelines of decency will be banned from the site.

D’Arconte told E&P the intent behind the 99-cent charge — which he pointed out is what you’d typically pay for an app — is not for the Sun Chronicle to make money. A good part of the fee, he said, goes toward paying for the credit card verification process for each user.

“The whole point of charging is to verify [identities], and it’s the only way you can comment now,” the publisher said. The idea came from the paper’s IT vendor, who built the software to facilitate the verification process.

Sensitive to the comments users make about each other on the paper’s site, D’Arconte feels it’s a necessary move to foster more constructive discussion. “It just doesn’t even seem to be part of the modern newspaper culture, allowing people to take swipes at each other without any retribution,” he said.

Now, he added, “The tone of comments by the people who have registered has greatly improved.”

The Foxboro Reporter and the Silver City Bulletin in Taunton are also following the new policy.

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