Two trend regarding reader comments are occurring at the same time: some media properties are taking a lighter touch with comment moderation in hopes of boosting their web traffic numbers, and others are saying enough is enough and closing down their comment threads.
The Washington Post is the best example of the former: opening up comments on virtually all stories in order to attract all that may come. The strategy has significantly boosting its traffic numbers, though it has also simultaneously made its comment threads a home for trolls across the globe. Slimy but effective.
The Toronto Star is the latest example of the latter: it announced last week that effective immediately, comment threads are closed.
The paper is trying hard to position the move as more, not less, reader input.
“We have passionate, opinionated readers who are eager to get involved in conversations about politics, education, municipal issues, sports and more. You’re talking about the news on thestar.com, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr, LinkedIn and more — and we want to be able to capture all of these conversations,” wrote Michael Cooke, editor of the Star, Canada’s largest-circulation daily newspaper.
“With that goal, we have turned off commenting on thestar.com effective Wednesday and instead we’ll be promoting and showcasing the comments our readers share across social media and in their letters and emails to our editors. In the New Year, we will be launching new campaigns for our readers to have their say about the issues that matter to our city,” Cooke said.
I don’t know who Cooke is trying to kid here, but no one turns off comments in order to increase reader input, and he pretty much says that himself in his last paragraph:
“Our objective is to highlight the most thoughtful, insightful and provocative comments from readers and to inspire discussion across other platforms and on thestar.com.”
And that is the issue, isn’t it? When comment threads are left open to everyone, everyone gets their say, even non-subscribers, and those with an agenda. Some think that is perfectly OK, even with many threads quickly turning nasty.
But it is hard to have an intelligent conversation on matters directly related to the issues discussed in the actual editorial copy when this happens – ask Popular Science, which as among the first to realize things were getting out of hand and turn off comments in the fall of 2013.
“Comments can be bad for science. That’s why, here at PopularScience.com, we’re shutting them off,” Suzanne LaBarre, then the digital editor at Bonnier’s Popular Science (she has since moved on to Fast Company).
“A politically motivated, decades-long war on expertise has eroded the popular consensus on a wide variety of scientifically validated topics,” wrote LaBarre in 2013. “Everything, from evolution to the origins of climate change, is mistakenly up for grabs again. Scientific certainty is just another thing for two people to “debate” on television. And because comments sections tend to be a grotesque reflection of the media culture surrounding them, the cynical work of undermining bedrock scientific doctrine is now being done beneath our own stories, within a website devoted to championing science.”
The move by PopSci was derided by the usual suspects, who believe open comment threads are as much a certainty as God creating the world in… whatever. But editors do what they feel is best for their publications, so I am very sympathetic.
In the end, I think the best approach is to do everything possible to keep comments open, but if the editors does not have the resources necessary to do a good job of moderating comments – and the owner/publisher won’t give them these resources – then alternatives must be found. I assume this what motivated the decision made by Mr. Cooke, and if this is the case, then I would certainly support that decision.
reposted with permission from Talking New Media
image by .faramarz