A review of our Web comment policies

A serious discussion arose in the past week about this newspaper’s use of anonymous online comments, particularly those that we have chosen to repeat in our print editions. That discussion is prompting us to review our policies.

Elsewhere on this page is a letter from a Del Mar Union School Board trustee asking that we reveal the names of some writers whose comments were published recently. We do not plan to do that, since we believe their names are protected under the California Shield Law as “unpublished information,” much as notes from interviews that are not published are protected.

As we state in our Disqus policy, which shows when a reader posts, we do not have any obligation to monitor this board, although we do review it and, on occasion, remove any “information or materials that are unlawful, threatening, abusive, libelous, defamatory, obscene, vulgar, pornographic, profane, indecent or otherwise objectionable.” On occasion, we have blocked posters who repeatedly violate the policy.

The postings do permit people to use anonymous nicknames — not real screen names or real names. The thought was to encourage an open discussion on issues that we are reporting on without fear of retribution.

As the attorney for the California Newspaper Publishers Association says, if we think back to Thomas Jefferson’s day, the old newspapers often included “scandalous” comments about leaders of those days that were decidedly worse than what is said today.

Jefferson believed, Jim Ewart reminds us, “having a vibrant press is better than not having them.”

Even so, we are open to rethinking our policy since some of the comments of late have gone beyond what common decency might allow. At this point we have already changed two policies: Comments will not be posted automatically, but must be reviewed by an editor, and we will no longer print anonymous Web comments in the paper.

Beyond that, we are reviewing our options, which include not changing the policy further or requiring registration with a full name or, at the very least, a valid e-mail name.

Meanwhile, this commentary can serve as a reminder to posters and subjects of their observations that sometimes we should think twice before clicking “Post Comment.”

Our community leaders who, because of their willingness to serve, are public figures — must grow thicker skin than others because the rules are different for what can be said about them.

But they should be treated with dignity even when being criticized. We’re all talking about these topics for the same reason — to make our communities and schools better places.