Columbia City Council to discuss proposed stipends for members

Group of prominent citizens says the time for compensation has arrived
Saturday, December 4, 2010 | 5:16 p.m. CST; updated 3:31 p.m. CST, Monday, December 6, 2010

This story has been updated to include information about a letter supporting stipends that was sent to the City Council on Nov. 29.

COLUMBIA — The City Council will discuss ballot language for council members' potential stipends in a pre-council meeting Monday.

A letter submitted to the council on Nov. 29 outlined a proposed amendment to the city charter that would create a $6,000 annual stipend for ward representatives and a $9,000 annual stipend for the mayor. If approved by the council, the public would vote on the amendment in the April municipal elections. Voter approval would make the stipends take effect in 2014.


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Many of the 19 signatories to the letter have been involved in city government in the past. The letter notes Columbia's expansion from 30,000 people when the City Charter was drafted in 1949 to over 100,000 today.

"We feel that it is fundamentally unfair and inequitable that the mayor and council receive no stipend whatsoever for their service to Columbia," the group wrote in the letter. "No other city of Columbia's size and complexity joins Columbia in paying nothing at all for their elected leaders' service."

The letter is signed by former mayors Darwin Hindman, Mary Anne McCollum, Rodney Smith and others.

Bob Roper, former chairman of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, said the most recent round of talk about council stipends more than a year ago. But he noted that the issue has come up regularly over the past few decades.

"This has been talked about off and on for a very long time," Roper said.

Third Ward Councilman Gary Kespohl said the stipend proposals would be a more comprehensive version of the reimbursements that are currently available for council members' work-related travel and conference costs. Reimbursements for each council member were recently decreased from $4,500 to $2,500 annually.

Kespohl said that if stipends are eventually approved, he would return his to the city.

“I made a promise to my constituents during my campaign that I wouldn’t spend any money on travel or conferences,” Kespohl said, indicating that he has paid for all of his own trips and meals out of pocket.

Fourth Ward Councilman Daryl Dudley said he was opposed to paying City Council members, although he thinks the decision is up to the public. Dudley is serving his first term on the council and said he spends at least 20 hours each week on council issues, although he has spent up to 30 hours in his busiest weeks.

“Being on the City Council is a volunteer job, and I understood that when I decided to run,” he said.

Dudley said that a stipend may slightly increase the number of people interested in running but that the long-term effects would be negligible.

“The stipends would help people with their weekly expenses," he said. “However, it wouldn’t provide the kind of income to make the position a full-time job."

Dudley opposed stipends for council members in part because the payments would come from the city’s general fund. He said the money would be better spent hiring a new city employee, such as a firefighter or police officer, or providing raises for city employees.

On the other hand, First Ward Councilman Paul Sturtz said he is in favor of paying City Council members.

“I think a small stipend of $10,000 to $12,000 would be appropriate,” he said.  

Sturtz said working on the council takes at least 20 hours per week, and although he will not be seeking re-election and thus would be unaffected by any future stipend vote, he thinks council members should receive some compensation for their contributions.

Columbia voters last rejected a proposal for council stipends in 1992. They rejected Proposition 1 – which would have paid the mayor $6,000 and council members $4000 – by a 54 percent majority. The 1992 vote was the fourth time that stipend issues had been on the ballot between 1978 and 1992.

The pre-council meeting will take place at 6 p.m. in conference rooms 1A and 1B in City Hall, 701 E. Broadway. The regular meeting will follow at 7 p.m in the council chambers.

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Mark Foecking December 5, 2010 | 7:51 a.m.

$6,000 for all they do is nothing. The average council person spends 20 hours a week or more performing their job. That works out to slightly less than $6/hour.

They would deserve every penny of a stipend. It's about time they started discussing it.


(Report Comment)
John Schultz December 5, 2010 | 10:53 a.m.

Polly, take a look at the agenda for Monday's city council meeting and let us know how quickly you could read and digest it, plus research any issues you might have with the various items?

(Report Comment)
Ed Ricciotti December 5, 2010 | 4:31 p.m.

I have no problem paying a stipend to those who sit on the council. Only a very few people can pay for council retreats and go on city business out of their own pocket. If that is the expectation, only those who are independently wealthy or retired will be able to represent our city. That would be a shame. A stipend could cover those travel expenses if the councilperson would so choose to attend various conferences.

This is a fiduciary matter and punting this to a public vote is in my eyes cowardly. This council needs to have this debate in chambers in front of the public. Then they need to vote on it and be accountable for that vote.

(Report Comment)
Barbara Jane December 5, 2010 | 8:11 p.m.

John, this is what caught my eye:

"On the other hand, First Ward Councilman Paul Sturtz said he is in favor of paying City Council members.

“I think a small stipend of $10,000 to $12,000 would be appropriate,” he said."

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith December 6, 2010 | 4:26 a.m.

Hey, Missourian, are you going to enforce your rule about having to post using real names or not?

Perhaps more to the point, are you even ABLE to enforce your rule about using real names?

There are people who are testing you, and you seem to be failing their test.

(Report Comment)
Elaine Janes December 6, 2010 | 7:03 a.m.

Mr. Ellis, I have found if I click on the (Report Comment) link, the staff seems to notice the problem faster, pretty immediately. I used to click (Report Comment) every time I saw a bogus name. Now I have been waiting to see if others do it. Give it a try!

(Report Comment)
Gwendy Williams December 6, 2010 | 7:47 a.m.

@Ellis Smith

Were you a hall monitor in school?

What a tattletale you are.

(Report Comment)
Laura Johnston December 6, 2010 | 8:03 a.m.

@Ellis, @Elaine: Thanks for helping us keep track of users who aren't abiding by our comments policy. We do try to enforce the rules, but obviously it's hard to catch everyone and be vigilant all the time, so help from readers is appreciated.
If you see a user who you believe to be suspect, flag the comment and the staff gets an instant message.

@Gwendy: We are simply asking that readers all operate within the same boundaries and we've found that asking for real names creates a more thoughtful conversation.

Laura Johnston, interactive news editor

(Report Comment)
Jack Hamm December 6, 2010 | 9:56 a.m.

@ Laura Johnston

“We are simply asking that readers all operate within the same boundaries and we've found that asking for real names creates a more thoughtful conversation.”

Really, you think it creates a more thoughtful conversation? I feel like it kills the conversation. I think it is a shame that the Missourian is passing up such a great opportunity with the Tribune shooting themselves in the foot. Tribune articles would often get comments that numbered in the hundreds. Now an article that gets 10 comments is a big story since the pay wall went up. One would imagine that most of those readers would migrate to the Missourian although it has become rather obvious that this is not the case. The reason is simple and obvious; the failure of the Missourian to allow anonymity (although the amateur website does not help either). Think of how valuable that feedback would be to your young reporters and how much the added attention and sense of community could encourage them to work harder, learn more, and become the best Journalist they can. I feel that this policy is a disservice to both the students and the community as a whole.

Anonymity is one of the basic tenants of the internet; a natural god-given internet right if you will; that has been around since the internet became mainstream. Both Columbia newspapers seem unable to keep up with the times and embrace reality; instead they both continue with the delusions that their product is something different than it really is. In a day where almost all successful news and information resources are moving towards strengthening protection of user rights and personal identity, the rise of anonymous sites like 4chan and Reddit, and the spread of software like the Tor Project we have the Columbia Missourian walking in the opposite direction. Do any of you staffers ever wonder why your stories do not get many comments when the same story on the Tribune had hundreds? Would you not prefer that people actually read your stories and have an open dialog about what you wrote even if that dialog is conducted with anonymity? Seems better than the alternative where barely anyone reads it and even less people comment on it.

Last, I ask the Missourian a question; why do you hang on so dearly to a dead concept? Anyone with the smallest amount of tech knowledge will be able to post on your site with a handle. You have no real way of enforcing this policy and you will only catch the obvious infractions while accomplishing nothing except diverting the majority of people from ever bothering with your website. Seems like a irrational and self-destructive policy to me.

(Report Comment)
Ryan Acker December 7, 2010 | 10:33 p.m.


Please Missourian, clean up the site, make it easier to navigate, and let anonymity, a well-known tenant of journalism, reign free.
The Trib's folly should be your opportunity.

(Report Comment)
Kellie Kotraba December 7, 2010 | 11:30 p.m.

@ Jack Hamm

I'm a reporter with the Missourian, and your comment about anonymity reminded me of a discussion we students had in the news reporting class earlier this semester. We were talking about the question of anonymity in comments on news articles.

We looked at what other news sites have been doing with their comments sections and discussed whether the Missourian should change its policy.

This may be surprising, but overall, students agreed that we should require people to identify themselves. Rather than seeing identification as a disservice, we saw anonymity as a disservice. Requiring a real identity helps eliminate inappropriate, crude comments. It also helps create a sense of accountability.

If people feel strongly about something, they should be able to say so and take ownership for their stances. If someone wants to say something without being identified, then perhaps it doesn't need to be said.

Anonymity may lead to more comments, but quality of dialogue is determined more by what people say than how people say it. Part of having an open dialogue is having it, well, openly — with an identity. A low number of comments on a story does not mean that it's not getting read, and a high number of comments does not guarantee a quality conversation. From the student reporter perspective, ownership, accountability and quality are more important than anonymity and quantity.

Thanks for joining the conversation. It's important to be open about what's going on in journalism.

(Report Comment)
Kellie Kotraba December 7, 2010 | 11:33 p.m.

This article, which was part of the reporting class discussion I mentioned, provides examples of what other online newspapers are doing with their comment sections.

(Report Comment)
Jack Hamm December 8, 2010 | 9:41 a.m.

@ Kelly
“This may be surprising, but overall, students agreed that we should require people to identify themselves.”

Because a bunch of inexperienced students have an opinion you ignore the opinions of the vast majority of potential` and current PAYING customers? Again, I repeat myself; “Seems like an irrational and self-destructive policy to me.” The Missourian was given a gold mine when the Tribune shot themselves in the foot and you guys are throwing it away. Are you trying to show the kids how not to run a business?

“Requiring a real identity helps eliminate inappropriate, crude comments. It also helps create a sense of accountability.”

Or you could do what the vast majority of websites do and use a monitor to help eliminate crude comments. Yes you link to a story of a few sites that are toying with alternative ideas but the vast majority allows anonymity and there is no debating it and it is not a changing trend.

Requiring an identity also helps to kill the conversation. I have not seen one story yet that has more than 3-5 comments. What do your students expect to learn from this? I would imagine that actual feedback, even if some of it is crude, is far superior to no feed back at all.

“If people feel strongly about something, they should be able to say so and take ownership for their stances. If someone wants to say something without being identified, then perhaps it doesn't need to be said.”

Seriously, can you not think outside the box even a little or at least open your eyes? Maybe a person is involved in the story in question or has inside information that they would like to share with the community anonymously, both happen all the time. For you to say this is the most repulsive part. You are a JOURNALIST, how often do people in your profession use anonymous sources. How many of the biggest news stories of the past 50 years would never have happened if it were not for anonymous sources? Maybe those stories should never have been printed either since those sources wouldn’t take ownership for their stances like you think they should. You are either completely illogical or a hypocrite; I’m leaning towards both.

Why doesn’t the Missourian do it the old fashion American way? Put a poll up on the front page and let the readers decide if they want the ability to post anonymously (of course we all know you won’t do this because we all know that anonymity will win in a landslide).

Enjoy not getting any new readers from the Tribune’s demise and continuing to be a mediocre mid-Missouri newspaper.

(Report Comment)
Jack Hamm December 8, 2010 | 9:42 a.m.

“Anonymity may lead to more comments, but quality of dialogue is determined more by what people say than how people say it”

This is a moot point when no one is saying anything. There is no dialog or conversation on your website. Any conversation even if it is a bit crude is far superior to no conversation at all. Moreover, a comment made anonymously does not affect the quality of the comment at all; your argument is illogical.

“Part of having an open dialogue is having it, well, openly — with an identity”

That is not true at all and especially in this case. It is obvious that your policy is keeping people from posting, thus your policy is keeping the conversation from being open. You can only have an open dialog when people feel safe to voice their true opinions and feelings; obviously people do not feel this way about your site since they are not posting.

Like most I will probably give the Missourian a few weeks to wake up and smell the opportunity knocking at their door. Hopefully there is a business manager there or someone with enough business knowledge to realize that continuing the anonymity policy would be beyond idiotic given their current opportunities. If not I will be going back to the Tribune and forking up the $10/month. At least their website does not run like it was constructed by a 12 year old and they listen to their customers which is probably why they actually have readers and posters on their website.

(Report Comment)
Andrew Sommer December 8, 2010 | 9:56 a.m.

@ Jack

I second everything you said. It baffles me that they continue with this idiotic policy. How they have not noticed that no one posts on their site and this policy is the reason why is beyond me. I imagine that if their alternative funding dried up and they had to operate solely on revenue that they generated like a real business you would see this policy go away instantly. Unfortunately, someone who does not live in reality because others are helping to pay their bills is making this policy. You nailed it on the head with:
"Seems like an irrational and self-destructive policy to me."


"I feel that this policy is a disservice to both the students and the community as a whole."

@ Kelly

You obviously did not think that argument through very well, as Jack pointed out it is full of logical fallacies.

Your newspaper and the students that learn there have been given an amazing opportunity with the Tribune’s pay wall going up. Do not throw it away by maintaining this ridiculous policy. This is a no-brainer, if management at the Missourian cannot figure this out then they certainly have no place teaching students.

I occasionally come to your site for a story (maybe once a month) but usually I go to the Tribune for local news. I had to actually make an account today to post this because I never would have considered posting before and I never will again until I can do so anonymously. I would be willing to put up with your sub-par website as long as there is a decent community but that will never happen without anonymity. Sort out this backwards policy or I represent another $10/month that will be going to the Tribune. You really are doing a disservice to the students.

(Report Comment)
Rich Balldinger December 8, 2010 | 11:14 a.m.

Just make up a believable name like John Smith or Jane Brown and continue as you would posting on the Tribune using a handle. That way, hall monitor Ellis Smith will quit ratting you out.

(Report Comment)
Patrick Sweet December 8, 2010 | 11:19 a.m.


You bring up some good points. I must point out a few things, though, on top of offering an idea.

First off, the Missourian does understand there is a need in some cases for anonymity. You will be hard-pressed, though, to find a story written by a Missourian reporter with anonymous sources. There are very few occasions when a reporter is given the OK to use an anonymous source.

I understand that may fly in the face of much of the perception of news media, especially when we have run wire stories that use anonymous sources and the New York Times occasionally seems like it abhors using the names of White House staffers.

I'll give you an idea of what we look into when considering using an anonymous source so as to give you an idea why we shy so much away from anonymity:
1. Is the information absolutely essential? Put another way: Could we still run the story without the anonymous source?
2. Could we convince the source to go on the record? Or could we get that information from an on-the-record source?
3. Does the source believe he or she will be harmed? That could be either physical harm or the loss of livelihood, but it doesn’t mean simple embarrassment.
4. Is the source hiding behind anonymity to take a cheap shot at an enemy?
5. Is the story important enough to the health of our community to override the risk to the newspaper’s credibility? (A story about bad housing might be; a story about a quaint old house probably isn’t.)

One of the big things, is that anonymous sources lack credibility. To give you an idea, I personally removed users with pseudonyms posing as veterinarians during the big Prop. B debate on this website. Those users didn't realize that Missouri has a database of licensed vets that allowed me to easily find them out. With anonymous sources and commenters, (and pseudonyms certainly fall into that category) there is no guaranteeing that what you are getting is genuine because no one can be held accountable.

And I know that we cannot possibly catch every pseudonym on this website (though we may be able to eventually)- which many of you have argued should be a reason to ditch the whole accountability thing -, but that doesn't mean we can't try to uphold the same standards in our comments section that we do in our letters to the editor (which require an address and a signature, even tougher).

With that out there, I wouldn't mind proposing that if one of our readers feels compelled to comment anonymously (keeping in mind the standards that we set for the sources in our stories), I see no problem with that person contacting us, giving his case for why he or she requires anonymity and making the decision from there.

Thoughts on that?

I have a feeling that if someone took the time to look at why his comment requires him being anonymous, he will find that it really doesn't.

Patrick Sweet — Assistant city editor,

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams December 8, 2010 | 11:39 a.m.

Patrick Sweet:

I support your rules and agree with the rationale behind them.

If someone wants to "expose" something (yet remain anonymous), they can contact one of your reporters off-the-record. It doesn't need to be done here in dramatic fashion, which is what "anonymity" is all about, anyway.

(Report Comment)
Jack Hamm December 8, 2010 | 12:04 p.m.

@ Patrick

First, I see no logical reason to hold posters/customers to the same standards for anonymous COMMENTS that you hold sources/employees too when they are using the source to support their article. Your sources and reporters are factors of production, commenter’s are customers; I hope you see the difference.

Second, the need for anonymity for a customer can be much simpler. For instance, many local stories concern the University as it is the largest organization in the area. The University is also the largest employer in the area and it does not take much to make the connection that many people employed at the University may want to comment on a story about their employer while remaining anonymous. The reason may be outlined in your criteria for anonymity such as fearing retaliation or it may be something simple like wanting to keep their professional and personal lives separate. The same can be said for government employees/officials and business owners. A commenter that owns a business may want to voice his opinion on a local story without having to worry about whether it will affect his business.

“One of the big things, is that anonymous sources lack credibility” “With anonymous sources and commenters, (and pseudonyms certainly fall into that category) there is no guaranteeing that what you are getting is genuine because no one can be held accountable.”

Again these are moot points. You have no way of enforcing your policy so I have no way as a customer of knowing whether any of the posters are genuine; thus I assume that all of them are not genuine like most logical people on the internet do. There is no way for the Missourian to even have an estimate at what percentage of their posters are genuine since it is so easy to get around. The point is that your policy is counterproductive; those who know how to get around it will and may still use your site while the majority of people who don’t will not even bother with your site. You are essentially eliminating most of your customer base before they even have the chance to use your product. This policy may make sense to a journalist but it is brain-numbingly idiotic to a business man. The fact that the Missourian receives alternate funding should not be overlooked. How quickly would the Missourian go under or have to downsize if they had to rely solely on their own revenue streams? How quickly would this policy go away if this were the case and the Missourian actually had to get customers to stay in print?

Put up a poll on the front page of the Missourian for the next week asking your customers if they would prefer the ability for anonymous posting. Then when your customers tell you that they do prefer it by what I imagine will be a very large margin honor their wishes and step into the 21st century.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams December 8, 2010 | 12:33 p.m.


Re: the poll. It's an OK suggestion, but I would point out that this forum is not a democracy. I do see the rationale in many of your points, and even support some of them....even though I can see other easy ways of whistleblowing to the Missourian if need-be.

But I support posting real names and the civility/accountability that ensues even more. I'm hopeful that the Missourian soon has ways of ensuring that real names are used and is able to truly enforce the policy. Perhaps names/addresses/phone numbers....and a periodic check thereof for names that are suspect ....would help.

(Report Comment)
Andrew Sommer December 8, 2010 | 12:34 p.m.

@ Patrick
Your paper does not live in the financial reality that the rest of your industry does because of the outside funding that it gets. By operating your paper around the particulars of your organization’s special financing you are doing a huge disservice to those students who will have to go out and work in the real world where they need industry specific business policies and practices that will encourage new readers and stimulate growth (especially page views and advertising hits). There is no doubt that your policy discourages people from posting and increases the incentive to go to a competing site like the Tribune. A typical private newspaper could never afford to turn away so many customers and page views which is exactly why we don’t see the vast majority of papers turning away from anonymity. If I read a story you get one page view. If I read a story and get in a discussion with a few other readers on the comment section you may end up with a few dozen pages views by the end of the day.

On top of this, you are preventing your students from getting what could be very valuable feedback on their stories. Moreover, I imagine a discussion arising out of a story written by a student could lead to quite a bit of motivation for that student.

Personally I do not see one positive upside to not allowing anonymous comments. I really cannot wrap my head around the Missourian’s “logic”.

The stories you run can be read at many competing sites, especially the AP stories. The majority of locals went to the Tribune before the pay wall because of the community of posters one could find there and the lively conversations and debates that they had (some were crude but that does not mean that they were not informative or interesting) and the same can be said for the rest of the popular sites all the way up to the international level. The majority of locals did not go to your site before because there was NO community, NO discussion, NO debate. The local community will most likely continue to not use your site for the same reasons. Ask yourselves if you want our business. If the answer is yes then sort out these problems, if not don’t complain about falling readership, having to cut service and certainly do not come to the University asking for more funding when you are turning away potential revenue.

(Report Comment)
Jack Hamm December 8, 2010 | 12:44 p.m.

@ Michael

The point of the whistle blowing was just an example. I feel there are many reasons why someone might want to post anonymously. However, more importantly I fail to see why a person needs a reason to post anonymously. Posters are customers and as the saying goes 'the customer is always right'.

Concerning the poll I completely agree and never expected the Missourian to even consider it. It was merely a way of pointing out to them that their policy is in direct conflict with what the majority of their current and potential customers want.

Mike I saw you very often on the Tribune and I imagine that you also miss some of the community and discussion on there. Did anonymity lead to a few ugly comments on the Tribune from time to time? It certainly did but in my opinion they were far and few between and easy to look over and it is safe to say that the vast majority of the readers agreed with me since people continued to use their site. Moreover, it is very simple for a site like the Missourian to police this sort of thing and remove the comments and the commenters in violation of the code of conduct quickly.

Last, there will never be a way for the Missourian to enforce this policy. How do you know that my name is really Jack and how could you ever prove it? How can you know that I am not several of the people posting on this thread right now? Moreover, if the policy is easy to get around then it does not do much to help civility. I can easily create a fake account that they will never catch and make crude comments; whether I make those comments with a fake name or a real name they should be removed.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams December 8, 2010 | 12:48 p.m.


Question....what is the reason we are unable to comment on AP stories and the like? Are there "copyright" issues?

This question has come up before (elsewhere), but there has never been an answer.

Thank you.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams December 8, 2010 | 1:08 p.m.

Jack, I am insufficiently versed in computers and the internet, so I'm unable to say whether there will ever be a way to ensure use of real names. The closest I can get is names/addresses/phone numbers and a periodic check. That would probably prove unwieldy and impossible, unless the Missourian decides to pay minimum wage to some hapless student needing a full-time job, lol.

As stated, I actually agree with many of your comments and thoughts. But, I've been in the environment where anonymous posts were the norm. Heck, for a while on the Trib (at the start), I posted under a pseudonym (knapper). I found I didn't like it much...with the I identified myself.

For now, I'm with the Missourian on this issue, and hope they find a way to enforce the rule. I have no way of knowing whether the Missourian...using this approach...will attract a group of thoughtful (large or small) folks that will keep the conversation sane....perhaps at-times sarcastic and pointed, but always sane. But, for the near future, I sure want to give it a try. If the approach fails, then the Missourian can change its approach and I can abandon ship. I'd like to see how the effort works out first, tho, and that's the main reason for my current stance.

You might argue that we've ALREADY seen how the approach works out. The Missourian has had this approach for quite a while, and the number of posters has truly been small. I do not attribute this to a lack of interest in posting under a real name. I attribute it to (1) an unwieldy and poor webpage, and (most importantly) (2) an unwillingness to publish extensively on national issues of interest to many of us who want to post. In other words, the Missourian has a propensity to publish stories not conducive to public comment.

I'll give it a try, tho.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith December 8, 2010 | 1:21 p.m.

This "hall monitor" wanted to stir up a hornet's nest, and it appears he has succeeded. I definitely agree that there is NO WAY the present policy can ever be 100% enforced. (On the other hand, "Ellis Smith" is listed in the phone directory and I am he. Call me, and talk to my answering machine.)

In case it's slipped anyone's attention, the Tribune's attempt to allow "anonymity" but then police what was posted was pretty much of a disaster as well.

As for "what's-her[his]-name" who came up with the "hall monitor"
bit, I guess this means she and I won't be going to the senior prom together. Damn! I had so looked forward to seeing her wearing that flour sack prom dress her mother stitched together...

Some of us from the other campuses of this "system" have issues with the Missourian, but they have nothing to do with this issue.

(Report Comment)
Jack Hamm December 8, 2010 | 1:27 p.m.

@ Michael

Your last point is the one that I debated with myself quite a bit before my initial post. You are very correct that the Missourian's website is below most people's standards and this may have an effect on how many people choose to come here from the Tribune, or just choose to come here in general. I doubt that we will see the Missourian make a substantial investment in its website anytime soon and thus we will most likely never be able to know its true effect on the Missourian's share of the local market. I do not feel that the ability to comment on AP stories factors in since the Missourian’s main competitor the Tribune also does not have this feature (although I agree that it is something I would like to see if at all possible).

I think that Andrew made the best point out of all the comments. It makes no sense for the Missourian to cut service and ask for more funding like they have in the past while simultaneously avoiding potential revenue streams. Moreover, I agree completely that they are doing a disservice to the students that go there to learn and get "real world" experience since it appears that the Missourian’s own policies would run them out of business pretty quickly in the real world.

It is rather difficult to quantify the impact that the ban on anonymity has on attracting potential customers. However, there are a few things I can look at to tell me that the effect is substantial. First, the Tribune attracted far more readers and commenter’s before the pay wall with a similar product. Second, when the pay wall was announced the Tribune community was very vocal and many of them voiced their concerns over the Missourian’s policy and cited it as the reason they would not be bringing their business here. Third, my own personal views; I consider myself to be a pretty average and reasonable guy and I feel it is a reasonable expectation that other people like me will have the same concerns.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams December 8, 2010 | 1:48 p.m.

Jack said, "It makes no sense for the Missourian to cut service and ask for more funding like they have in the past while simultaneously avoiding potential revenue streams."

Doesn't this comment assume that "not going anonymous" IS "avoiding potential revenue streams"?

I don't think that link has been shown at all except in some "theoretical" thinking. It's a hypothesis, at best. An unsupported one, at that.

In fact, the data actually supports the opposite or neutral at best. The Trib had many, many anonymous posters, but do you see them here? Were they a revenue stream of the Trib, even a potential one? I maintain that, for the most part, they were NOT. I'm betting they neither paid nor clicked on advertisements, and had no future inclination to do so.

For now (need more data), I maintain the opposite.....that those of us who are willing to name ourselves accurately are a more "potential revenue stream".

Speaking for me, I know I am. Long, long time ago, I was a paid subscriber to the Missourian. I stopped for many reasons, but that's another story for another time. I'm back with a second chance. I also hope I'm happy this time.

(Report Comment)
Jack Hamm December 8, 2010 | 2:17 p.m.

@ Ellis

“In case it's slipped anyone's attention, the Tribune's attempt to allow "anonymity" but then police what was posted was pretty much of a disaster as well.”

What reasoning do you have to back up this statement because the facts seem to disagree? The Tribune got significantly more web traffic than the Missourian before the pay wall went up and a whole ton more comments (we will have to wait and see how the pay wall affects their page views). Comments being deleted and posters being banned were rather infrequent occurrences on the Tribune’s boards and not allowing anonymity will not stop the problem. The Missourian still has to remove comments from time to time and they have the policy.

“(On the other hand, "Ellis Smith" is listed in the phone directory and I am he. Call me, and talk to my answering machine.)”

This is another issue that has not been touched yet. What if a comment on the Missourians board leads to someone looking up that person and getting sensitive information like an address or phone number. Is this policy worth the potential threat of harassment to your customers? Still wondering why more people do not post on your website and of the ones that do many use fake names or attempt to?

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams December 8, 2010 | 2:26 p.m.

Jack says, "What if a comment on the Missourians board leads to someone looking up that person and getting sensitive information like an address or phone number."

It happened to me, once, a year-or-so ago.

The problem was taken care of.

On a somewhat-related subject, is there a difference between being overly fearful on a local level versus a national level?

(Report Comment)
Mickey Smith December 8, 2010 | 2:35 p.m.

@Micheal..."I'm betting they neither paid nor clicked on advertisements, and had no future inclination to do so."

It's a numbers game with advertisers. They don't necessarily look at the number of times an advertisement is clicked they look at the number hits to a page/s and figure say 5% will click on the advertisement. That 5% was a number I randomly picked just for an example. So what's more %5 of 100 or 5% of 1000? It's all relative. I would bet that the Missourians number would go up tremendously if they allowed posters to post anonymously, thus increasing the possibility for more revenue. Maybe test it for a 2 month span and see what happens to the hits on the page. Jack I agree with you 100% on all points.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams December 8, 2010 | 2:55 p.m.


I know little about how advertisements are paid or whether a "click" generates revenue. I am willing to take your comments on the matter as "truth".

But, consider this: The fact is that while I don't often agree with the Trib's way of doing or thinking about things, I DO think the company is populated by some fairly bright financial people....people who do research, understand money, and are able to figure out good ways to extract some of it from us to their own corporate benefit. If what you say is true about "clicking on the web page generates revenue", does it not make sense that the Tribune has data that says, "We can cut loose those who will not pay and simultaneously lose the revenue we get by them "clicking" and "posting" on our web page, and make it ALL back up PLUS more by forcing payment for access."?

You bet it does....that's EXACTLY the decision they made. They cut us no-payers loose, sacrificing the revenue from our hits with the goal of making even more money from those willing to pay and keeping only the "serious" folks. For us to sit here and say they are making a bad business decision is thought-in-a-vacuum based upon some theoretical thinkings of people who know nothing about their particular business.

I guarantee they've thought this through, and they have the data to back up their decisions.

And, like all businesses, they will....eventually....decide if they made the right decision, or the wrong one. If, in 6 months, the Trib has not changed its current policies, then I would say all of our theoretical musings and arguments on this issue were....utterly wrong; they made money on the deal.

(Report Comment)
Jack Hamm December 8, 2010 | 3:02 p.m.

@ Michael

First, the relationship between page views and revenue is very strong and has been established through several scientific studies done by leaders in the industry. It is a very well supported hypothesis.

“In fact, the data actually supports the opposite or neutral at best. The Trib had many, many anonymous posters, but do you see them here? Were they a revenue stream of the Trib, even a potential one? I maintain that, for the most part, they were NOT. I'm betting they neither paid nor clicked on advertisements, and had no future inclination to do so.”

This is where your argument fails. Remember that if you cut out government funding the Missourian will go out of business pretty quickly, the Tribune would not. Moreover, the Missourian sees substantial savings from employing students for a large portion of their output; the Tribune does not share this fortunate condition. The Tribune’s policies kept it in business for a long time and made it the most circulated newspaper in the area and the most read local website while the Missourian is continually in the red financially.

Those posters have turned into a revenue stream for the Trib. One, the Tribune was making money off of advertising just not as much as they wanted to hence the pay wall. If it were not for the thriving community of people who went to the Trib’s site they never would have had the opportunity to institute the pay wall which is a new revenue stream in itself. The large community of posters and readers of the Tribunes website is what is keeping them alive and viable for the 21st century. They need to find a way to more efficiently utilize the community as a revenue stream which they are now trying to do with the pay wall. I’m sure they have estimated that they pay wall will decrease readership and page views (advertising $) but those costs will be offset by increased marginal revenue from the customers that they maintain. The Missourian on the other hand needs to create a community and then can start worrying about getting revenue out of them. Statistically speaking, sites that allow anonymity get more traffic.

(Report Comment)
Mickey Smith December 8, 2010 | 3:12 p.m.

@Micheal...I never said that pay site is a bad business decision as a whole. For the tribune, IMO, it will because they are basing their findings and decision on the NYT which has a little bit bigger fan base and has a much better product.

As for advertisements generating revenue, the businesses (the advertisers) don't necessarily generate revenue just because someone click on the site to read a story, they generate revenue when someone actually clicks on the advertisement. Like I said it's a numbers game. However the advertisee (trib/missourian)has many different ways they can get money from the business wanting to advertise. Below is just one site I clicked on, I am sure their are many other ways to get paid.

If the marketing guru's say that 5% of readers of an online site will click on an advertisement, wouldn't it make sense to try to have as many users as possible go to that site?

I would be curious to see the numbers of people the trib has lost because of their decision. I for one haven't been to their site to read any article since November 30th and won't go back.

(Report Comment)
Jack Hamm December 8, 2010 | 3:12 p.m.

@ Michael

“It happened to me, once, a year-or-so ago.
The problem was taken care of.”

For a grown male customer like you or me this may not be a huge deterrent. Now imagine that you are a potential customer who is also a 20 year old girl and ask yourself if it affects your willingness to post here. Do you have a daughter/granddaughter? How would you feel if this happened to her?

“On a somewhat-related subject, is there a difference between being overly fearful on a local level versus a national level?”

Do you mean security wise? I know you said that you were not tech savvy but I am sure that you know some people can do quite a lot on the internet. I consider myself to be slightly above average in this area in relation to my age group. By posting with your real name I can find out virtually anything about you and quickly. If I already have your name, tracing your IP address will give me your location and once I have your name, gender and zip code there is very little that I can’t find out about you. From here I can get anything, criminal records, children’s names and addresses, where you work, certain tax records, anything that you have ever posted from that IP address and on and on. Someone with real IT knowledge could do a lot more and could take it to very damaging levels.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith December 8, 2010 | 3:40 p.m.

We have at least one expert on the subject of "information retreival" in Columbia. He is not connected with the university. He posts under his real name (and posted recently on another matter). It's one thing to discuss retreival theoretically and another to actually make one's living by doing it. Maybe he's following this thread and will, at his leisure, join us, and then maybe he won't.

(Report Comment)
Jake Sherlock December 8, 2010 | 3:44 p.m.

Dear Readers,

Jack Hamm's posts have been removed pending verification of his real name. An e-mail has been sent to the account he used to register on the site.

While I wait to hear from Jack (feel free to email me at, please take a look at this column from our executive editor that pretty well explains why we require real names on this site:

Thanks for being part of the debate, everyone.

Jake Sherlock (and yes, that's my real name)
Opinion editor

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams December 8, 2010 | 3:52 p.m.

Mickey: I've gone to the Tibs webpage just to check "how many comments" on the various stories...I wuz curious.

Comments are mainly way down, but an article on Kung Pao Kitty yesterday brought out the troops, lol. Personally, I prefer Cashew Kitty, but that's another story. I doubt many dropped their subscriptions over this, but that's just a guess. It's early. Heck, it's been 8 days, and the comments on THIS site have barely clicked up. Many may find they miss posting anonymously and pay up, they may come here, or they may just read a book. We can speculate all we want, but only time will tell the whole story.

But, I can guarantee that the Trib has weighed the financial pros and cons of this decision and, contrary to what we may hypothesize, moan, and groan about with stupendous intellectual logic, the Trib's numbers are saying, "This way is more profitable. We cut loose some, but we gain much more elsewhere".

The only thing that remains is, "Were the projected numbers right?"

We'll see.

(Report Comment)
Gwendy Williams December 8, 2010 | 4:01 p.m.

@Jake Sherlock

So, are you saying Jack has a funny name?


(Report Comment)
Michael Williams December 8, 2010 | 4:04 p.m.

Jack's posts have been removed.

I DIDN'T DO IT!!!!!!!!!

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams December 8, 2010 | 4:07 p.m.

Gwendy: If it's his real name, I hope he comes back.

If it's not his real name, I hope he comes back.

He wuz logical and had good posts. I don't always have to agree with logic. Heck, no one else does, so why should I?


(Report Comment)
Gwendy Williams December 8, 2010 | 4:12 p.m.

Michael: I like him too

(Report Comment)
Mickey Smith December 8, 2010 | 4:17 p.m.

@Micheal..You are correct that only time will tell, so we will all wait. However I will not give the trib one advertising hit/dollar by going to their site to read any articles, even though I could get around their 10 free reads a month; they can police that just as well as the Missourian can police validity of names.

This site hasn't clicked up that much because of the anonymous issue, I can promise you that if they allowed that the comments/readers would increase rapidly.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams December 8, 2010 | 4:34 p.m.

Mickey: I think you are correct that if the Missourian allowed anonymous posts, the number would click up rapidly.

For now, I'm in the camp of those who hope that doesn't happen. I wanna see what happens in the next months. It is my hope that about 20-30 of the Trib posters migrate over here, post under their own names, and we end up having informative, rational discussions with a salting of innocuous sarcasm, a few harmless nips, and not-a-few funny smartassed comments.

I have a dream!!!!!!!!!

(PS: But we need to educate the Missourian on what we need. I'd start with a counter on the number of comments for each story so we can tell where the action is.)

(Report Comment)
John Schultz December 8, 2010 | 4:35 p.m.

But would the average quality of the comment increase as well? I'm not so sure.

(Report Comment)
Steven Dupree December 8, 2010 | 4:47 p.m.

I second the comment counter. The site is just cumbersome to navigate. Too many clicks to get anywhere. Jeff City's just revamped and I think they have it right. But, as Mr Hamm mentioned, most other papers have to make money.

(Report Comment)
Jake Sherlock December 9, 2010 | 8:06 a.m.

Hi everyone,

Gwendy and Michael -- Mr. Hamm was nice enough to get back to me rather quickly yesterday, and his posts are back. Thanks again to Mr. Hamm for his understanding of why we ask, even if he doesn't agree with the no-anonymity policy.

I think a comment counter would be great. It's something I can definitely have our IT department look into.

We used to do a weekly feature called "The Week in Comments." I always thought it was a fun way to spotlight the conversations that happen on this board. We still run a version of it in print on Tuesdays, but we haven't been running it online in a while. Here's a link to one:

Is this type of feature useful for y'all? I'd love to hear your thoughts, either in a post here or you can drop me an email at Let me know what you think.

Jake Sherlock
Opinion editor

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith December 9, 2010 | 8:33 a.m.

I was getting to like Jack Hamm, and am glad to see him reinstated.

I'd wondered what happened to "This Week In Comments." I don't know how "important" it is, but it at times has been interesting.

I agree with John Schultz (as I frequently do) that counting numbers of posts may not be the best way to judge what's really going on. Probably NO ONE MEASURE by itself is sufficient.

One last comment: On several of these "forums" or "formats," posters sometimes behave is if they own the forum rather than the newspaper. Not so. "He who pays the piper calls the tune."

(Report Comment)
Mickey Smith December 9, 2010 | 8:59 a.m.

@Ellis..."He who pays the piper calls the tune."

This couldn't be more true and the one who pays the piper in the real world are the customers, because without them there is no piper to be paid. :)

(Report Comment)
Deniz Koray December 15, 2010 | 7:37 p.m.

@ Andrew Sommer,

You bring up an interesting point about how an open comments section would increase advertising revenue by increasing page views. However, a higher number of page views does not necessarily reflect a proportional increase in ad revenue.

For example, the research shows that not all articles have the same amount of revenue per page view. In fact, the differences can be pretty large. An article on Linday Lohan's most recent rehab stint only got $2.50 in ad revenue per thousand views for several large daily papers, while articles on the Gulf recovery after the BP Oil Spill got $34 per thousand views. Here is the link in case you are interested:

Similarly, the New York Times has over 8 times the advertising revenue per user of the Huffington Post, which relies on slideshows and comment sections to increase page views.

(Report Comment)

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