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At first glance, BenitoLink may seem similar to other news websites — but it has a few things that make it unique. Most significant is the fact that BenitoLink is a news website that is an “open platform.” That means that people can register for a free account with the website (in the upper right hand corner of home page) and submit commentaries, features, photos or even news stories. As a non-profit, being inclusive is part of our mission.

In less than 24 hours after registering, we have reviewed your name, email and ensured that you are not a computer trying to add a virus to the the website. As long as you follow our “Terms of Use,” you can be published.

People are often shocked by this freedom. There is an assumption that people will commonly abuse or take advantage of the opportunity, but in our experience, that has not been the case. First of all, writing is actually a lot of work. Secondly, everything in our editorial content has been reviewed by BenitoLink staff before it is published.

In fact, we are often asked, “Doesn’t anyone check it?” Yes, we check it. But it is actually rare that a story needs to be held. There are times when it takes a few phone calls or emails between our content director and the person submitting a story to get things cleared up. But it runs.

There are important distinctions between the different types of writing on BenitoLink that are worth explaining:

Reporting for BenitoLink: This byline, identifying the writer, tells readers that the story was written by a reporter BenitoLink has hired to cover a particular story. Our reporters are vetted and usually go through an approval period before we hire them. These days, traditionally-trained reporters are hard to find, so sometimes we take on less experienced writers and give them some guidance. We are always looking for writers who have an interest in journalism and feel passionate about helping to keep the community well-informed.

Posted by BenitoLink Staff: This is typically used when a news release has been sent to BenitoLink staff and is simply providing information for an event or other non-controversial information. We review it, occasionally add an introduction to it, and then run it.

By a Nonprofit: We are fortunate to have a growing number of nonprofits that add content top BenitoLink. It is a chance for them to tell the public about the services they provide members of the community, or share their successes.

By a Business– In certain cases, it is entirely appropriate for a business to tell its history or share an award or event. It is not meant to be an advertising tool.

By an Individual: Occasionall,y we have an inspired writer with a wonderful story to tell or a profile about an outstanding individual they know. The story was not assigned by us and they are not paid for their work, but the story is given the same consideration, editing and placement as an assigned story.

Commentary: The commentary section of BenitoLink is similar to the editorial page of a newspaper. It is a written opinion being expressed by an individual about something that has special importance to them. The article can be in the form of an opinion piece, column, letter or forum. This is one of BenitoLink’s most heavily-read areas on the website.

We appreciate our commentary contributors because the discourse is lively and often thought-provoking. It has helped us achieve our mission of being inclusive by providing a venue for public conversations without the gatekeeper/editor at a  traditional newspaper — though we do monitor commentary to make sure it abides by our Terms of Use.

Obituaries: BenitoLink considers obituaries not only important to friends and family but they contain the history of our county. Families are allowed to post their obituaries on BenitoLink at no charge because we value the submissions as stories. Donations to BenitoLink for the service are appreciated, but not expected.

BenitoLink has specific Terms of Use, but will not stop an editorial that expresses what some may view as an unpopular or unusual perspective as long as it abides by our the aforementioned terms. Improper language or mean-spirited commentary, particularly aimed at individuals, will not be allowed. If two commentaries are similar, we will not hold one because the point has been made previously, as more perspectives are beneficial.

These explanations are in response to questions we get every day from readers we meet in the community. We hope this explanation is helpful to you, our BenitoLink user. A surprising amount of our content comes from the community itself, but without reporters who have taken the time to learn journalistic skills and really work to keep you informed, BenitoLink would have no heart.

Think BenitoLink and help us build strong reporting staff by donating to BenitoLink on May 3 for the Silicon Valley Gives regional fundraising event.