Foreign Policy Blogs

Talk Isn't Cheap in Attleboro, MA

Apparently there were some unusually rude people posting comments to the Sun Chronicle’s website in Attleboro, MA. The online version of the paper no longer allows just anyone to register a comment. You practically have to give them a map to your where you live.

Usually I only comment on this blog about affairs related to the media and journalists outside of the U.S. But when I saw a posting by Editor & Publisher  about the Sun Chronicle, I had to say something.

According to the Chronicle’s new policy for posting comments:

To encourage intelligent and meaningful conversation, all posters will be required to register their name, address, phone number, email and a legitimate credit card number as proof of who you are. Your credit card will be charged a one-time fee of 99 cents to activate the account. We will not retain payment information after the one-time transaction.

To put it as delicately as possible, are they serious? Even someone who spends the time to send a letter to the editor via the US mail doesn’t have to pay a dollar, or provide so much personal information. If I were a resident of Attleboro and a regular reader of the Sun Chronicle online, the paper’s new rule would accomplish one thing for me: it would shut me up.

While the primary role of the media is not to provide a platform for everyone and their brother to rant and rave, there is some element of interaction with the public that occurs as a result of published content. When it comes in the form of online comments, it can get out of control. Many media simply don’t provide an online platform for comments because of the manpower required to monitor it. But the Sun Chronicle has gone to an extreme with their new policy.

In a July 6 statement on their website about the new commenting policy for online readers, Publisher Oreste P. D’Arconte stated:

This change is being made, D’Arconte said, in an attempt “to eliminate past excesses that included blatant disregard for our appropriateness guidelines, blind accusations and unsubstantiated allegations.”

Putting up digital roadblocks between rude people and other readers seems almost justifiable, especially if the “appropriateness guidelines” included things like not using profanity in comments.

Still, the Sun Chronicle’s idea to charge for comments seems like a slippery approach in dealing with the delicate matter of freedom of the press. After all, a newspaper isn’t accountable for much if readers can’t call foul when a story misses the mark, is questionable in the conclusions it draws, or just plain wrong. And now, if a Sun Chronicle reader without a credit card wants to make a comment online, they are out of luck.

According to Editor & Publisher, the newspaper’s publisher said the following to them:

Sensitive to the comments users make about each other on the paper’s site, D’Arconte feels it’s a necessary move to foster more constructive discussion. “It just doesn’t even seem to be part of the modern newspaper culture, allowing people to take swipes at each other without any retribution,” he said. Now, he added, “The tone of comments by the people who have registered has greatly improved.”

That justification works if you are a 5th grade teacher with an unruly classroom, but these are readers that D’Arconte is talking about. Strong opinions don’t equate an excuse to cut people out of the conversations that newspapers and websites can generate.

With so much media censorship and control all over the world, it’s sad to see a town in Massachusetts adding even 99 cents worth of fuel to the fire.



Genevieve Belmaker

Genevieve Belmaker is a freelance journalist and contributing editor with The Epoch Times ( She also contributes to Quill, the magazine of the Society of Professional Journalists and Her blog on journalism is

Genevieve has traveled throughout the U.S., Asia, Central America, Israel and the West Bank for reporting assignments, including major investigative reports on the recovery of New Orleans, the encroaching presence of China in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, the dangerous import of melamine-contaminated milk into the U.S. and settlement outposts in the West Bank. She regularly reports on issues related to journalism, and the work of journalists.

She holds a BA from the University of Southern California in International Relations, and has been a member of several prominent national and international professional media organizations, including the Society of Professional Journalists, Investigative Reporters and Editors, the International Women’s Media Foundation, the New York Press Club, and the Newswomen’s Club of New York. She lives in Jerusalem, Israel with her husband and son.

Areas of Focus:
New Media; Journalism; Culture and Society