Commenting, new features and the plan for

Brian Smith

Welcome to 2011 and a new semester at Iowa State. We’ve got some exciting new features and improvements on our website I want to make sure you are aware of.

The biggest announcement is the ability to comment on stories is finally back. However, the ability to comment anonymously will not be available.

As a staff, we have had a lot of discussions in the last year about how we wanted the commenting section to operate on our website. For us, the biggest factor in deciding to remove anonymity was to keep the comments section on our website civil and on topic.

For years, the quality of commenting on news websites — even our old website — has been rapidly declining. Some commenters have chosen to fill the comments sections with hate speech, name calling and placing blame on victims. This is something we feel is unproductive and not beneficial to the community.

Another factor in our decision was that we do not allow letters to the editor to be published anonymously. We feel that you, our readers, have a right to know who is expressing opinions. We want you to be able to look at the source of the information and evaluate its credibility for yourself.

This is a trend I expect to see continuing in the news industry. The Des Moines Register recently removed the commenting section from Rekha Basu’s columns and is instead encouraging community members to discuss her columns on her Facebook fan page. The Press of Atlantic City (N.J.) also turned to Facebook. It is using a commenting plugin powered by Facebook on its website.

We strongly considered using that Facebook plugin on our website but decided that we wanted to give the community an additional option. There are two ways to register on our website. You can login and verify your identity with your Facebook account — and before you think about making a fake Facebook profile, know that creating a fake Facebook is a violation of Facebook’s terms of service and will likely result in the account being deleted — or provide us with your name, phone number and e-mail address. If you choose not to use Facebook we will use that contact information to call you and verify your identity.

Reporters and columnists will also begin responding to comments on the website. They’ll be answering and asking questions of the commenters. We want to create a two-way communication channel on the website to allow you to get clarification or more information on a topic.

More new features

We have also added a community calendar to our website. You’ll find the events from the calendar on our homepage or at You can also submit events to our calendar. We’re hoping to grow the calendar over the semester to become the go-to place to find ISU events.

TV listings were also added to the website last semester. Ames has lacked a simple place to go to figure out what’s on TV. I know I love having this on the site. Check it out under the living tab on our navigation bar or at

Another goal I have is to increase the usage of technology to tell stories digitally. We now have access to services to create interactive timelines and stories based on posts on social networking sites.

We will also be increasing our use of live chats. Our sports desk led the effort in using chats last semester, and other desks will increase their usage.

Additional improvements on the horizon

A reorganization of our homepage should launch soon. We worked to improve the navigability and remove some clutter. Section pages are next on the list, and we will continue to try to improve the usability of our website. Major revisions are planned for the opinion section to make it even easier to find content from the columnists that appeal to you.

As the semester goes on, we’ll continue to make improvements to the website. Live chats will gain a permanent home on the website to make it easier to find and participate in them. The PDF flip-book also will gain a permanent home, allowing you to find issues going back to May.

If there is something you think our website is missing, please let me know. You can e-mail me at [email protected] or leave a message on my office phone at 515-294-1632.