The Trend Of Killing News Comment Sections Because You 'Just Really Value Conversation' Stupidly Continues

from the mute-button dept

Over the last year, there has been a tidal wave of websites that have decided to close their news comment sections because the companies are no longer willing to invest time and effort into cultivating healthy on-site discussion. While that's any site's prerogative, these announcements have all too often been accompanied by amusing, disingenuous claims that the reason these sites are muting their on-site audience is because they're simply looking to build relationships or just really value conversation. Nothing says "we care about your opinions" like a shiny new muzzle, right?

And judging from this NiemanLab conversation with a lot of the sites that have chosen to shutter comments, most of the websites have no intention of looking back. After all, what's the use of a local, loyal, on-site community when you can just offload all conversation (and that traffic) to Facebook and Twitter, right? Dan Colarusso, executive editor of Reuters, for example, doesn't think comments are important because damnit people -- Reuters isn't looking to argue!
"We’re not the kind of news organization that’s about giving our ‘take’ on something. We’re not looking to start an argument; we’re looking to report the news. We felt that, since so much of the conversation around stories had gravitated toward social, that was the better place for that discourse to happen. We did keep comments on our opinion pieces, because we felt that that is where you are trying to start an argument in the best possible way."
Except comments aren't just about having arguments, they're a legitimate and transparent avenue for readers to publicly correct your errors right below the original article, which is something many of these sites likely grew tired of. Sure, poorly managed comments can devolve into a cesspool of banality, but good commenters almost always offer insights the writer or website may have missed, could have been wrong on, or never even thought of. In short, we want you to comment -- we just want you to comment privately so our errors aren't quite so painfully highlighted. For the sake of conversation, of course.

Last week On The Media was the latest to quietly kill comments on the bottom of its newsletter, informing readers that comments just don't provide the "kind of dialogue" they wanted:
"We value our listeners above all and are always keen to know what you're thinking, to hear your questions and concerns, to get feedback on what you like and dislike. So why shut down the comment section? As we hear more from listeners through Facebook and Twitter and directly through our website, we've concluded that the comment section just isn't the best way to have the kind of dialogue we want with our listeners."
By "kind of dialogue" you mean transparent and public? Over at the last bastion of website interaction known as Twitter, Mike amusingly highlighted the disjointed logic of claiming to value dialogue while dramatically reducing the number of avenues for it, and the website's response doesn't really make sense:
Of course "nobody in our writing or editorial staff wants to take the time to cultivate local on-site community" or "we don't like having our mistakes highlighted publicly right below our articles" don't make for very good explanations when it's time to save a little money and axe ye olde comment section. So what we get instead are these vague bloviations about how this is really about an evolution in conversation, and punting the problem to Facebook is really the best thing for everyone. It's really time for some new, flimsy excuses for why websites can't be bothered to value local, on-site dialogue, because "we killed a major, on-site avenue of conversation for the sake of conversation" still doesn't really sound all that convincing.

Filed Under: comments, news, on the media, value conversation


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  1. icon
    jilocasin (profile), 24 Sep 2015 @ 6:23am

    Anyone can 'report' the news these days....

    Anyone can report the news these days. Once the first article is published, it's just a copy/paste cycle from the rest of the internet. What keeps sites valuable, and people returning (in my opinion) is the particular spin an author adds [if she bothers to] and the tenor of the comments.

    Reddit, Stackoverflow, heck even Slashdot are all about the comments. While a headline or a good story may bring users to a site, it's the comments that keeps them there.

    Personally, I don't do Facebook. I am more likely to post comments at sites where I can post anonymously, or pseudo-anonymously without registering [ like here on Techdirt ;) ]. Occasionally I'll bother to create an account on a site, but that's typically a comment heavy site like Slashdot.

    Sites that don't allow anonymous posting, or worse ones that require you to use your Facebook or Discus credentials (I really detest forcing you to log in with an account that facilitates cross site tracking.) are like magazines you flip through at the dentists office while waiting for your appointment. If you are bored, you flip through a few pages now and again. There's no brand affinity or loyalty.

    If a website operator can't be bothered to maintain a comments section he's saying that he can't be bothered with maintaining a clientele. That website is telling their readers they just don't care enough to bother.

    It's like the republican party having told women they belong in the kitchen, latinos they belong back in Mexico, and calling all african-americans stupid, poor, and criminals and yet still then expecting them to vote for the republican presidential candidate. You don't think it could happen? Then you weren't paying attention to the 2012 presidential election.

    News is cheap to reproduce and your competitor is just a click away. If you don't care enough about your audience to at least allow comments, then you shouldn't expect your audience to care about you.

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