Phillips: Online comments returning to editorials Monday | Columnists

Almost exactly this time last year – Aug. 20, 2016 – we made a decision to shut off comments on our website. The reward for that decision has been immense. In a world where much civility has been lost, I’ve heard from readers that they enjoyed the quiet that comes from reading an article without a tin can trail of commenters shouting at each other.

We shut off the comment on every section of the site. It all went quiet.

But, a year later, the environment has us rethinking one small piece of that decision – comments on our own editorials. Starting on Monday, we will allow comments on our editorials again. Comments on the rest of the site will remain off, and I stand by that decision.

But I think the political moment begs for as much dialogue from both sides of the aisle. (I hesitated to use the phrase “both sides” – there are only two parties but more than two sides of any issue). If we can provide a thoughtful forum for debate, I think we should do so.

Since Aug. 20, 2016, the landscape has changed after a polarizing election. I’ve noticed people who were never really interested in politics are paying attention — from the national to the local level.

The Opinion page has always been the heart of any newspaper and the seat of community conversation. I want to facilitate that conversation as much as possible, in as many venues as possible.

While comments will be turned on for editorials, they will not return on letters to the editor. I received consistent feedback from some who had been hesitant to write letters, because they knew they could be blasted cruelly and anonymously in our comments section. I took that concern to heart. If someone has the courage to put their name on an opinion in a letter, I believe they’ve earned the respect of having others respond in kind – named and adhering to our letters policy.

But an editorial is a megaphone to our readers. It’s the force of 600 words by a seasoned opinion writer and it can handle the winds of immediate reader response and lively real-time debate.

It would have been interesting to read comments in response to our editorial about the Muscatine mayoral impeachment process, in light of the results of an audit that seemed to vindicate her. Or, did you think it was fair that we called on our Illinois Republican lawmakers, Rep. Tony McCombie and Sen. Neil Anderson, to back schools over Gov. Bruce Rauner in the latest debate over school funding? Or what about our support of a well-regulated hunt to cull the growing deer herd in Moline?

This week, we’re also going to try one more way to open up the conversation. On Tuesdays and Thursdays at noon, Editorial Page Editor Jon Alexander will be online to host a live chat about the news of the day. This is an experiment to see if readers are interested in talking to each other about what’s happening in the news. Visit at noon Tuesdays and Thursday to watch or participate.

When comments are turned back on Monday on editorials and the addition of a live chat with Jon Alexander, I look forward to seeing the results to these additions to an already exciting dialogue on the Opinion page. But I want to offer one word of warning before I flip the switch. As I hope this moment proves, I’m not afraid to change my mind if I realize that I was wrong. If turning the comments back on for this one part of our site turns into a platform for racism, bullying or the off-topic incivility that inspired me to turn off comments in the first place, I know where the switch is and I’ll turn it back off without apology.