By: Scott Stein, Senior Account Executive, Leonard & Finco Public Relations, Inc.

The Sun Chronicle, a Massachusetts daily newspaper, this week put a new policy into place – readers have to pay $1 and register their name, address, phone number and a credit card number to comment on any articles on the newspaper’s website. In addition, the name that appears on the credit card is the name that will automatically be attached to the poster’s comments.

Certainly this isn’t the first time that a media outlet has looked to institute charges for its website, but typically it has been to access web content and the results have been mixed, at best. At first blush, with my news reporter background, this would seem to be a step back for free speech. It’s certainly an approach that could stymie anonymous speech and dialogue on important issues making the news.

But if you’ve spent any time reading the comments that are made at the end of newspaper articles online, you can also understand the approach that The Sun Chronicle is taking. The Chronicle’s publisher said the change was being made “to eliminate past excesses that included blatant disregard for our appropriateness guidelines, blind accusations and unsubstantiated allegations.” We’ve all seen some of the excesses that they’re talking about.

Of course, the World Wide Web is often viewed as the Wild West where just about anything goes. It has exponentially accelerated the flow of information and opinions and torn down geographic communication barriers. In just a matter of seconds you or I can comment on the latest stories in the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, or even the New York Times. While most of us will follow a website’s “appropriateness guidelines,” there are many who do not and their actions have obviously influenced one media outlet that has responded with a fee and full disclosure policy.

If you’re like me, when I’m told I have to pay to access something online, I quickly move on, keeping my credit card in my wallet. Even at just a dollar a comment, I won’t be adding my opinion to the stories on The Sun Chronicle, or any other website that sees fit to follow suit.

What do you think? Is The Sun Chronicle’s approach a good one? Are you willing to pay a buck every time you feel compelled to comment on an online news story?

Please add your comments to this blog posting…free of charge.