Newspapers have come up with various methods to monetise online content; for example, New Zealand's The National Business Review has introduced a paywall for some of its online material.
However, The Sun Chronicle in Attleboro, Massachusetts may be taking the search for new revenue streams just a little too far. It has announced that it will start charging its readers to comment on stories on the paper's website. Before posting their thoughts on any story, readers must register their name, address, phone number, and a credit card number with the paper. Registered readers are charged a one-time fee of 99 cents for their commenting privileges.
When a registered reader makes online comments on a story, their name, as it appears on their credit card and in their community, will appear below their comments. In an article announcing the change in policy on online comments, the Sun Chronicle's publisher, Oreste P D'Arconte, said the change was necessary to "to eliminate past excesses that included blatant disregard for our appropriateness guidelines, blind accusations and unsubstantiated allegations."
While the new policy may be effective in cleaning up the newspaper's comments, it may be the equivalent of using atomic weapons for mosquito control.
"Overall, I think it's an admirable but flawed attempt to hold commenters accountable," says Dan Kennedy, a journalism professor at Northeastern University. "A one-time charge of 99 cents isn't going to stop anyone from commenting. But I do think being forced to hand over your credit card information before you can comment is going to stop many people."
"I think it would make a lot more sense to integrate comments with Facebook, on which nearly everyone uses his or her real name, usually with a photo," he added. "Some news organisations have had very good luck with that, either by posting some of their stories on their Facebook page or by using Facebook as a registration method on their own site."
As might be expected, the policy hasn't been met with open arms by the newspaper's readers. "Registration is going very slow," D'Arconte said last week. "A lot of people are holding back thinking we're going to end it."
Asked if the new policy was too drastic a measure to address the problem, the publisher responded: "What's too drastic? I think it's the right thing to do."
- Additional reporting by David Watson