Bruce Murphy

Urban Milwaukee Changes Policy On Comments

Historic change in publication will accept comments from members only.

By - Aug 1st, 2018 01:10 pm
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Troll free zone.

Troll free zone.

Oh those trolls. Right-wing trolls, left-wing trolls, often anonymous with fake names and spurious email addresses and so many scores to settle. 

We here at Urban Milwaukee have lost patience with them. After years of discussion about this, and despite a long-standing reluctance to limit the dialogue, we have concluded there is too much nastiness, too much score-settling and too many digressions that take the discussion far from the topic at hand. 

We began this publication with a firm belief in a free publication that is free to all readers, all views, all dialogue and discussion. We still believe in that. But like most journalistic publications, we have come to the conclusion that a free flow of dialogue is inhibited by a small group of verbal pugilists whose comments scare away other readers and discourage a constructive exchange of views. And we fear that the trolls and political snipers make the reading experience less pleasant for the vast majority of Urban Milwaukee’s readers. Indeed, we have heard from some longtime fans asking us to limit the comments. 

Publications like the New York Times have full-time staff assigned to the task of monitoring comments. We are small publication with a small staff that cannot afford to do that. So what to do? 

We have decided that the comments section from now on will be open only to Urban Milwaukee members. These are folks we know are not fictitious creations with made-up names and fake emails, and who are not out to undermine the publication. 

In the short term, the policy will result in less comments, since most now come from a small cadre of non-members. But in the long run it may actually lead to more comments, and certainly to a more constructive interchange of views. Long-term, the comments section might even become a draw to people who value the exchange of views and want to become Urban Milwaukee members to join the discussion.

And yes, we want to do all we can to encourage membership. At a time when Google, Facebook and other massive entities have taken over advertising and driven down the price that can be charged, we believe our members program is the key to our long-term survival. 

Where does our new policy leave non-members? The publication is still free to all, and all of its articles can be read, all of its photos viewed and enjoyed. Non-members can still sign up for our daily email update of news stories and our daily email of new arts and entertainment coverage.  

How does our new policy affect feedback from readers and the community? We have always gotten emails and phone calls from readers, and that is still open to all, and of great interest to us. We do publish letters (though we’ve seldom received them — that may change given our new policy); send any letter to info@urbanmilwaukee.com. We also run at least five Op Eds per week, and that remains an option for someone looking to advance a different view or provoke discussion. We also run about 100 press releases a week, more than any publication in town, and probably the entire state. These are from politicians, businesses, non-profits, businesses and other groups and individuals and include unfiltered information from them that helps us all to better understand our metro area and state. All of those outlets combined should assure the publication is as open to reader response as any publication in Wisconsin. 

Meanwhile, Urban Milwaukee continues to grow its editorial offerings and readership. We see this change as part of that maturation process, as something will make this a stronger publication that is less distracted by verbal food fights and freed to be more responsive to the community and to all of readers. 

17 thoughts on “Urban Milwaukee Changes Policy On Comments”

  1. Thomas Gaudynski says:

    Thanks Bruce Jeramey and Dave for the great publication. Hope this only improves it.

  2. keith@prochnownatural.com says:

    Outstanding! Thank you. I have avoided Twitter and Facebook all these years for a host of reasons, but have thought that I might take part in a well-managed for-pay social platform. Here is a start.

  3. TransitRider says:

    Even though I’m a paid member, I’m not sure I like the new restrictions. I suspect there will be far less give and take now that non-members cannot post. While there were a few people (eg WCD) whose posts never said anything, I could just ignore them.

    An exception should be made for posts from public officials (like Aldermen) even if they aren’t paid members. Those posts often added greatly to the discussion. Perhaps elected officials could get complementary memberships.

    Another exception should be made for the author of an article. If an article is written by somebody not on the UM staff, that author should be able to respond to other posts.

    Neither of the exceptions I suggested (elected officials and authors) would result in anonymous posts and would still be in keeping with the goal of keeping discussions responsible and on-topic.

  4. Dave Reid says:

    @TranistRider The author of an article will be able to comment (just waiting on a code update for that). And I like the elected officials option as well… We’ll consider it. And yes for now there will certainly be fewer comments, but we expect them to grow again as membership grows and we hope into much more of a community discussion. Thanks for being an Urban Milwaukee Member!

    PS I should add this was not a decision we came to quickly or easily.

  5. Betsy Blair says:

    I support this decision – whenever I look at the comments strings, I see them getting hijacked by a few chronically angry, bitter people.
    I do hope this inspires more active commenting

  6. Carl Schwartz says:

    I am only recently a member and at best an infrequent commenter but this change makes sense for all the reasons Bruce spelled out; Let civility and financial support for Urban Milwaukee flourish!

  7. HamBam says:

    Perhaps UrbanMilwaukee could look into a pathway for frequent and trusted contributors to comment, but not be granted full (paid) membership? I think that could strike a good balance, but I have no idea the technical limitations on the platform that could be a problem.

    Anyway, thanks for the update UrbMKE team! Looking forward to more productive conversations in the future 🙂

  8. weitenma83 says:

    I agree with the new policy. I see too many thoughtful pieces here followed by thoughtless comments.

  9. lccfccoop2 says:

    I support your decision. Too bad it had to come to this but the obnoxious trolls were hijacking the comments sections and other more nuanced responses were getting lost in the shouting.

  10. Jake formerly of the LP says:

    I understand the need to control things from trolls, and the need to keep this good publication monetized. But I also worry that it’ll limit the engagement of people who get directed to this site because of the stories that are posted here.

    We’ll see how it goes.

  11. DEJones says:

    Can’t hurt to try. If comments crater, I’m sure UM will re-assess.

    Quality commenting is one of the things that initially attracted me to UM. If this policy enhances that quality, all the better.

  12. MilwaukeeMax says:

    If a non-member really feels the need to be heard and refuses to become a member, they always have the option of emailing the editors to air their grievances.

  13. TransitRider says:

    Another thing seems to have changed. I no longer seem to get e-mail notifications of new posts in “my” threads (those I’ve “subscribed” to because I posted a comment).

    Also, I’d like it if I could “subscribe” to a thread without posting a comment. Sometimes I see an interesting new story for which I’d also like to see any comments that might show up in the future (but, for which, I have nothing to add (for now, anyway). Sometimes I’ve been tempted to add an innocuous comments just so I could subscribe.

  14. Dave Reid says:

    @TransitRider Yes, currently we’re having an issue with the sites automated emails… Hopefully get that fixed soon. Interesting idea on the subscribe to comments..

  15. TransitRider says:

    Are comments working at all? (I see no comments to ANY story in the last 70 hours or so.)

    I’m posting this, in part, to see if THIS comment shows up.

  16. DEJones says:

    Last comment was posted five days ago (Aug. 11). Either the new policy is having an unexpectedly harsh effect on commenting or there are technical difficulties afoot.

    UrbanMilwaukee, care to respond?

  17. Jeramey Jannene says:

    @DEJones – Comments are working. We are happy with the change, and the increased quality of the average comment. We expect the volume of comments to grow as our membership program grows.

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