On modbee.com, discussions are healthy, often heated

September 3, 2008 

Our readers are not shy. By phone calls, e-mails and letters, they let us know what they think about the newspaper and our Web site.

We like it that way. That's why we list the phone numbers and e-mail addresses of our reporters and editors. The feedback helps us shape The Bee and modbee.com.

Over the past year, we've significantly opened up the channels of communication for our readers on modbee.com. Now you can comment on any story, editorial or letter to the editor posted on the site.

If you think our coverage was biased, you don't have to pick up the phone to call an editor. All you need to do is scroll to the bottom of the story and write your comment in a box.

If you disagree with a politician advocating a bill you want defeated, you don't need to fire off an e-mail. You can put your comment right below the story so other readers can see what you think.

We recently switched to software that more prominently displays reader comments on modbee.com, and their number has skyrocketed. In August, a record 6,517 comments were posted. By the time you read this column 500 or more comments will have been recorded this month.

While the discourse is often intense here on the Editorial Page, the debate on the Web site is rough and tumble. The site makes it easy to post comments quickly, so the reactions people leave are often from-the-gut blunt.

"The king is a fink," one reader will write. "The king is just fine," another will reply, "and you're an idiot if you think otherwise."

A few readers have complained that such exchanges are undignified. But democracy is not neat and tidy. People have the right to spout their opinions, and in a free society that often includes mocking one's opponent.

However, we do put some limits on what people can say. We have an aggressive filter that weeds out obscenities. We let readers flag comments as offensive, and they are reviewed by editors. The site also allows readers to rate each comment with a plus or minus. If enough people balk at a comment, it's hidden from easy access.

In whatever form you prefer -- a formal letter to the editor or a quick comment on the Web -- we encourage you to let us know what you think. It's the American way.

Dan Day, deputy editor for interactive media, can be reached at dday@modbee.com or 578-2332.

Modesto Bee is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

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