Toronto Sun: We Value Criticism And The Voice Of The Reader So Much, We're Killing Both

from the disingenuous-drivel dept

At this point it has become a personal pastime of ours to track the idiotic reasons websites give for killing their local news comment sections. Instead of simply admitting nobody on their writing or editorial staff wants to deal with on-site conversation, or acknowledging they’ve never liked readers being able to point out story errors right below articles, lazy websites instead give a rotating crop of hilarious excuses. These usually range from claims they’re killing comments because they really care about building relationships, to claims their muting all on site dialogue because they just so love conversation.

The Toronto Sun is the latest to join what’s now a massive trend, a note to readers proclaiming that the paper is regretfully killing its news comment section because the paper just can’t figure out how to interact with human beings in the digital age, and would like to roll the clock back to an era where only editor-approved thinking reaches the readers’ eye. The note from Sun editor James Wallace begins:

“The voice of our reader has always been a critical part of the Sun.”

So critical that we no longer feel like allowing it on site!

“As a paper, we pride ourselves both on dishing out and taking criticism – especially when the latter comes from our readers.”

Yes we’re so proud of this criticism we’re eliminating the ability for you to view this criticism at all. Like other comment-killing websites, the Sun pretends this is a temporary measure while the website figures out a better way to deal with reader feedback and opinion (read: throw it at social media and forget about it):

“Therefore we have decided, for the time being, to no longer allow commenting on most online articles until we sort out a better and more accountable way for our readers to interact with us and each other. Like a growing number of news organizations, we are also moving away from anonymous commenting because there are other options that encourage respectful, civil debate. Much of that debate already takes place on social media.”

What the Sun and other websites don’t yet understand is that by eliminating site comments, you’re not only killing a strong, local, on-site community, you’re harming news transparency. Like it or not news is now a conversation between sites, between news outlets, and perhaps most importantly between the public and news outlets. Having a comment section — however filled with bile poorly-managed sections can be — is part of that transparent process of fact collection, analysis, and correction.

As more and more sites have shuttered comments I’ve become increasingly aware of my own knee-jerk tendency to head to the comments to see what the author may have missed or misinterpreted; something I can no longer do at places like The Verge, ReCode, Reuters, Popular Science, The Daily Beast, and many others. Shoveling this important discourse over to social media is one way of hiding the reality that your reporters and your outlet can make errors, may not always have the full picture, and aren’t (gasp) infallible:

Except if the Sun really valued conversation and reader insights it would leave the comment section intact and weed the troll garden via better comment system design. But if you don’t understand the value of comments, don’t care about transparency, and are too cheap and lazy to spend time cultivating local community, you get half-assed mea culpas like the Suns’:

“We regret having to make this decision and are working on a solution that will best serve you, our readers, and the Sun. Meanwhile, keep your comments, views and opinions coming. We value them.”

Yes, your opinions are so valuable we’ve decided to dig a six foot hole and bury them. If you want to interact with us, please feel free to shout at us at the curated nitwit cacophony that is Facebook, Tweet at us via the fractured, cordoned off hallways of Twitter, or fire a letter to the editor our way which we’ll promptly ignore. For the sake of conversation and respectful debate, of course.

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Comments on “Toronto Sun: We Value Criticism And The Voice Of The Reader So Much, We're Killing Both”

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Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Please talk:

Into this ignonimous black hole, where we will certainly hear your vain cries and confuse them with the wildly cheering (and diminishing) paid supporters (this was a for profit business, wasn’t it?) while we slither into oblivion, because we can.

Once there was an altruistic motive to be a publisher, but profit (in the form of consolidation mostly) got in the way. So the new model will be via Reddit, Techdirt’s, and the like. Forget Facebook and their ilk, censorship is real there, but who actually knows what the ‘new’ way will be. Maybe it will be talking to each other, face to face (even if that is in a non government sanctioned, torrented, encrypted, group video chat that is ongoing, worldwide with a universal translator that has the ability to identify trolls and lock them out with heuristic speech identifiers that only slam someone who is selling, being obstreperous and obstinate, or promotes killing.

At least the publisher isn’t Murdoch, but are they related in some way (financial, marriage)?

Charles (profile) says:

Re: Please talk:

Thanks for allowing me to look up a new word:

noisy and difficult to control.
“the boy is cocky and obstreperous”
synonyms: unruly, unmanageable, disorderly, undisciplined, uncontrollable, rowdy, disruptive, truculent, difficult, refractory, rebellious, mutinous, riotous, out of control, wild, turbulent, uproarious, boisterous;

Anonymous Coward says:

Compare to blogs

I got an email from a thin-skinned blogger who said to shut up. He didn’t want me to compare his comments with something else, nor analyze, nor anything that would make him have to think about something else. He admitted my comments made him think. And my comments were like walking on eggshells to start with, not even interesting enough to film an episode of Cheers.

I told him I didn’t think there was a right and wrong way to respond to a blog – but whatever.

I checked out discussions from other bloggers, and one blogger said she or he would stay awake half the night agonizing over whether to post the comment or not, and how to respond if she did post it.

Somehow this clicked, and I realized that a blog was a territorial thing, like being in someone’s living room. I wouldn’t want to agonize all night over some comment either, so I had some sympathy after that.

So I can see the viewpoint of the writer of an article, who may be busy writing the next article, and I can see the dilemma of the people who may be assigned to manage the blog, who may not know all the details of the story and can’t defend the facts of the article.

I can see how a writer would view his article in a manner similar to a blog, and be frustrated with the quality of the comments.

I think it is a territorial thing.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Compare to blogs

inasmuch as its a control thing, i guess you could say it is territorial…
face it: most people profess to believe in free speech, but do NOT want to practice it…
that is messy and yucky and people say stupid stuff and stuff…
yeah, ’cause otherwise, our social discourse is carried on at such a high level of rationality…

Charles Roth (profile) says:

Is this fair? Signal/Noise

Let’s take a big step back, for a moment. I suggest (I may be wrong) that the signal-to-noise ratio on the various newspaper-and-other outlets has been, and is continuing to drop.

Frankly, I don’t think there IS a good, automated, way to keep decent, non-troll discussions on track, in a way that doesn’t scare off the average, non-techie commenter.

I speak to this with some knowledge and history: I built one of the very first web-based discussion systems (, 1995, with non-web versions back to 1986). This is A HARD PROBLEM, folks.

I think it may be fixable, but not by just waving or wringing our hands at it.

I agree that the lies about “how we value our readers input” are just that, lies. But I suggest that there is a reason they are lying — they feel helpless, and they may be right.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Is this fair? Signal/Noise

Comment moderators can be hired for a pittance these days. I was a contracted comment moderator for Gawker years ago. The pay was even advertised as “beer money.” I was able to do it while working another job since it only required spare time and an internet connection.

It’s not that hard to hire tech savvy young people and provide them with guidelines as to what type of comments to remove and how many chances you provide someone before banning their account.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Is this fair? Signal/Noise

I suggest (I may be wrong) that the signal-to-noise ratio on the various newspaper-and-other outlets has been, and is continuing to drop.

Oh, you mean the comments. I read that as the articles themselves. So much media is liberal blather these days I don’t bother to read or watch it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Is this fair? Signal/Noise

…I read that as the articles themselves. So much media is liberal blather these days…

My problem is that many of the “news” sites I’ve gone to has page layouts that are maybe 20% news article, the masthead, and the comments. The rest of the page is all advertising! It doesn’t matter what the political view of the site is; they all do this.

And that doesn’t count those sites that have RSS feeds but every single feed goes to a paywall!

Capt ICE Enforcer says:

Mike help

God Mike, will you please delete all the comment sections for As you know, I frequently post stupid stuff in the comment section which is either boring, offensive, or makes no sense whatsoever. It drives me nuts reading the stuff I say and I know other TD readers feel the same. Do us all a favor. Don’t allow comments, save our children cause nobody else will…Thanks dude.

Anonymous Coward says:

Seems these news outlets have forgotten why they had a comment section to begin with. They were loosing readership and it was thought that getting them involved to where they might care about the news service would bring them back.

Now because they’ve been shown in a bad light or caught in the many false biases, suddenly they are uncomfortable and it’s now a great idea to kill it. Bye bye readership and with that the eyeballs to drive ads to command a higher price. The downward spiral will just accelerate now.

Then too, newspapers are no longer a good source of news for anything other than local. Why pay to read about the news a day late? On the internet you can find out about it just about when it happens.

Charles Roth (profile) says:

Is this fair? Signal/Noise

I’m intrigued by “comment moderators can be hired for a pittance”. If that’s really true, I smell an interesting business model. “Farms” of moderators (hopefully better/more ethical than Putin’s farms of commenters!) could be offered to troubled newspapers etc. as a cheap service.

*Is* it true? Normally humans are the *most* expensive part of any such loop.

Anonymous Coward says:

I hope they can afford to lose the ad dollars.

As more and more sites have shuttered comments I’ve become increasingly aware of my own knee-jerk tendency to head to the comments to see what the author may have missed or misinterpreted; something I can no longer do at places like The Verge, ReCode, Reuters, Popular Science, The Daily Beast, and many others.

Which are sites I no longer go to due to the lack of comments. I know I’m not the only one who doesn’t go to those sites anymore.

cryophallion (profile) says:

Two major items most people miss

I think people are overlooking some important details:
1. This is a massive loss of ad revenue for them. Instead of reading a story once, then moving on, if you have a comments section, suddenly people are staying longer and returning to the site to engage, and see more ads. Since they are losing readership, and complaining about it, how on earth does it make sense for them to ELIMINATE repeat and extended ad sessions? You can’t come complaining to me about being poor when you are losing a simple and useful revenue stream (and as if twitter, facebook, and google need more ad views for themselves, but if you want to gift them to them, it’s your own fault).

2. The media outlets are so used to framing the story, that they think that the way they spin it IS the truth. That’s how they always get away with saying something that is mutually contradictory like this. They waste their own respect and intellectual capital they used to have to try to spin it, and they are so stuck into thinking they are the ones who can decide the news that they think it will work.

So, now, they lose their revenue stream, their viewership, and more respect from people who see them as they are and who learn not to trust their spin (And every news story has spin based on the adjectives used, there is no such thing as pure impartial reporting anymore, if ever). Go ahead, bury yourselves even earlier, and then when you complain when you say no one is left to staff the investigative units, we can point to you giving up ad revenue, focusing too much on unnamed sources, and the even more obvious slanting of the news than ever before.

Jeff_Cigar (profile) says:

Moderator issues

The Toronto Sun On Disqus is being banned by the power hungry “Duck_Season”. What is the point of this person f=driving everyone away because he doesn’t know his place?

His banning everyone for no reason is stupid and no 0one can read and comment on your stories. Make sense??

Time to ditch the duck and find a normal moderator.

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