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By David Stevens: Editor

Cyberspace letters to the editor have never been easier. And you don’t have to sign your real name.

No hostile comments are allowed. No obscene comments either. Readers can help decide what’s hostile or obscene.

If you don’t like what somebody else has to say, just click twice and their opinion will disappear.

Welcome to the new “comments” feature on the Freedom New Mexico Web sites.

I love it. I hate it, too.

The comments section follows each story posted on Web sites of the Clovis News Journal, Portales News-Tribune, Quay County Sun and Cannon Connections. The idea is for readers to participate in news coverage by

a) adding personal insight;
b) sharing opinions of what they’ve read;
c) sharing opinions of others’ opinions.

Hundreds of comments have appeared on our Web sites in recent weeks, most of them related to the recent arrest of Clovis City Manager Joe Thomas who’s been accused of driving under the influence.

CNJ reporters have provided information about the case. Readers have told us Thomas is guilty, Thomas is innocent, the CNJ is lying, the CNJ is right but the police are lying, the CNJ is blowing the whole thing out of proportion, the CNJ is helping city officials cover the whole thing up, Clovis is a terrible place to live, Clovis is a wonderful place to live and nobody uses proper grammar anymore.

Anybody with a computer and Internet access can comment. Anybody with minimal computer savvy, or a friend, can remove anybody else’s comment – two clicks on “delete comment” and the offending words will disappear.

I love the comments feature because it gives voice to everyone great and small. And it’s like walking into every local coffee shop every morning and spending a few minutes at every table – without having to leave home. And it’s a pretty good measuring stick for what interests our readers.

I hate the comments feature because anonymity is irresponsible and anybody can say anything even if it’s not true. Any day now I’m expecting to read that the zoo’s new saber-toothed tiger has escaped and is eating little children.

And so we’ll be making changes to the comments system in the next couple of weeks. I’m not sure exactly what we’ll do, but here are two things I have in mind:

Some form of registration.

My preference is that everyone use their real name, but readers clearly are more likely to tell us what they think if they don’t have to sign their name. We confirm identity before publishing letters to the editor in the newspaper. Last week we had more than 200 comments on our Web sites and three letters to the editor.

So I’m thinking we’ll allow those who comment on Web site stories to use fictitious names, but they’ll have to use the same name each time so regular readers will come to respect their credibility (or not).

And they will have to provide us with a valid e-mail address in case we wish to communicate with them privately.

And no, they cannot sign up as Mayor David Lansford unless they really are Mayor David Lansford. (We’ll check.)

No delete button.

It doesn’t seem fair that readers can kill other readers’ comments for any reason or no reason.

Instead, I like the idea of readers flagging a comment for an editor’s review when they suspect someone has violated the posted rules.

I don’t want to control what people say on our Web sites. I don’t want anyone silencing everyone either.

But enough of what I think. Let the reader comments begin.

David Stevens is editor for Freedom New Mexico. E-mail him at
david_stevens@link.freedom.com