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some text Alison Gerber

Dear readers:

Please check out our new website; we made it for you.

We hope you will find it easy to navigate, and that it encourages more and deeper conversations between you and the journalists who cover your community for the Times Free Press.

The website is more mobile friendly than our old site, has a cleaner design, offers improved photo galleries and makes it easier to sign up for our email newsletters. It also asks for feedback on topics you'd like to see covered. It's your newspaper, and we want your feedback about the news that matters most to you.

The new website also allows you to comment on all stories. This is a significant change. 

Back in 2012, I wrote a column announcing that the newspaper's online comments policy was changing — we'd decided to allow comments on works of opinion but no longer allow them on news stories.

We arrived at this decision after much hand-wringing and internal debate over how to manage a comments system that had, simply put, grown out of control. Commenters were harassing other commenters, writing unsubstantiated claims about people quoted in stories and finding ways around our filter that was supposed to catch profanity. They'd spell the F-word with a "ph" instead of an "f," for example.

It had become difficult for us to monitor, and the discourse was becoming destructive.

"Too often, commenters post statements that simply are not accurate; sometimes they attack the person who is the subject of a story," I wrote at the time. "In too many cases, the online conversations descend into poisonous exchanges with comments that are cruel, rage-filled, racist or brimming with words you wouldn't want your mother to hear you utter."

So, why bring back comments on news stories more than seven years later?

We've found a platform we believe will encourage productive, civil conversations while allowing us to better engage with our readers. We're using a commenting platform called Talk, which was developed by the Coral Project, a collaboration between newspapers and the Mozilla Foundation and funded by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. 

Talk is designed to discourage abuse and elevate productive, safe online dialogue.

Comments will only be open to subscribers and commenters will have to use the emails attached to their Times Free Press accounts. (Our previous commenting system allowed commenters to remain completely anonymous and the newspaper had no way of verifying their identity).

On Talk, commenters will be able to mute annoying voices, see when other commenters join, manage their privacy, sort comments by most replied/liked/newest, receive notifications when a journalist interacts with them and filter out off-topic comments, among other features.

Talk also allows commenters to react to other comments with a "respect" button.

"This not only encourages people to respond positively across ideological boundaries, but also suggests that the goal in a Coral community is to be 'the most respected,' not 'the most liked' person in the room – a subtle but important difference," the Coral Project's website states.

Talk is used across the globe in nearly 20 countries by some of the largest and best-known newsrooms as well as small news organizations.

Please try it and send us your feedback. Even better, scroll to the end of this article and leave me a comment. I promise to reply.

And while you're at it, let me know how you like our new website.

Alison Gerber is the editor of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Reach her at agerber@timesfreepress.com or follow her on Twitter at @aligerb.

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