NPR The Latest Website To Prevent You From Commenting Because It Simply Adores 'Relationships' And 'Conversation'
from the this-muzzle-represents-my-love-for-you dept
For several years now we’ve documented the rise in websites that shutter their comment sections, effectively muzzling their own on-site communities. Usually this is because websites are too lazy and cheap to moderate or cultivate real conversation, or they’re not particularly keen on having readers point out their inevitable errors in such a conspicuous location. But you can’t just come out and admit this — so what we get is all manner of disingenuous prattle from website editors about how the comments section is being closed because they just really value conversation, or are simply trying to build better relationships.
NPR appears to be the latest in this trend du jour, with Managing Editor of digital news Scott Montgomery penning a new missive over at the website saying the comments are closing as of August 23:
“After much experimentation and discussion, we’ve concluded that the comment sections on NPR.org stories are not providing a useful experience for the vast majority of our users. In order to prioritize and strengthen other ways of building community and engagement with our audience, we will discontinue story-page comments on NPR.org on August 23.”
Again, nothing says we “love and are engaged with” our community quite like preventing them from being able to speak to you on site (this muzzle represents my love for you, darling). The logic is, as Montgomery proceeds to proclaim, that social media is just so wonderful, on-site dialogue is no longer important:
Social media is now one of our most powerful sources for audience interaction. Our desks and programs run more than 30 Facebook pages and more than 50 Twitter accounts. We maintain vibrant presences on Snapchat, Instagram and Tumblr. Our main Facebook page reaches more than 5 million people and recently has been the springboard for hundreds of hours of live video interaction and audience-first projects such as our 18,000-member “Your Money and Your Life” group.
And while those are all excellent additional avenues of interaction and traffic generation, it’s still not quite the same as building brand loyalty through cultivating community and conversation on site. By outsourcing all conversation to Facebook, you’re not really engaging with your readers, you’re herding them to a homogonized, noisy pasture where they’re no longer your problem. In short, we want you to comment — we just want you to comment privately or someplace else so our errors aren’t quite so painfully highlighted and we no longer have to try to engage you publicly. All for the sake of building deeper relationships, of course.
Montgomery talked a little more about NPR’s decision on Twitter, where Mathew Ingram (one of roughly three writers I’ve found who gives two flying damns about the negative impact of this trend) politely pondered if NPR really tried all that hard before giving up:
@scottmdc I appreciate that. But do you think the scale shifted in part because you didn't prioritize them?
— Mathew Ingram (@mathewi) August 17, 2016
Except, as we’ve noted time and time again, studies show that it’s not really that hard to cultivate a healthier on-site comment section simply by showing up. Just having a writer or editor show up and treat readers like human beings dramatically improves the overall tone of the conversation. This isn’t something that requires all that much time and effort. But because editors can’t clearly quantify the benefits of giving a damn in this fashion, they’ve decided it’s easier and cheaper to just give up.
Elsewhere on NPR’s website user reaction to the news has been overwhelmingly negative, with many users saying they don’t have social media accounts and appreciated the on-site ability to have vaguely intelligent conversation. Says one user:
They’re getting rid of a great community of discussion. It’s the best forum I’ve known, with people from all walks of life discussing the news with a moderate amount of intelligence, and a healthy dose of wit. I’m pretty upset. After the comments go, I won’t visit NPR much anymore. There’s not much content compared to other sites. It was the discussion that kept me coming back.
Another reader offers a more blunt take:
And the “public” in public radio goes away, except for the pleas for money. There’s no interaction any more, emails are ignored, Twitter is useless, and Facebook is a gross invasion of privacy. Sad NPR. And worse that the supposed advocate for the listener backs the decision. Perhaps if NPR had actually involved itself with the commenting instead of isolating and offshoring it, you would have found that things would have worked better for you.
Sadly, like Bloomberg, Recode, Reuters, Popular Science, and other sites, NPR and Montgomery round out the announcement by claiming that muzzling your community somehow illustrates a love of “deeper relationships” and “conversation”:
In the eight years since NPR first launched its online comment section, the world of social media has changed dramatically, as has NPR’s digital presence. We’re constantly asking ourselves where we can create the best dialogue with you and how we can deepen that relationship. It’s a question we will keep asking because the way we communicate online will keep changing. We’re looking forward to continuing the conversation.
That sounds so much lovelier than “nobody in our writing or editorial staff wants to take the time to cultivate local on-site community,” “we’re lazily cutting corners” or “we don’t like having our mistakes highlighted publicly right below our articles,” don’t you think?