The Toronto Star Loves Commentary So Much, It Will No Longer Let You Comment

from the a-muzzled-readership-is-the-new-black dept

Add the Toronto Star to the growing list of websites which claim to love conversation with their readers so much, they will no longer be letting readers comment. As we've seen with countless news outlets over the last year, it's not just good enough to close your comment section, for some reason you must insult your readers' collective intelligence. This can easily be accomplished by pretending you're not closing down comments because you're too lazy and cheap to maintain a local community and moderators, but because you're looking out for the best interests of all mankind.

For example, Motherboard closed its comments section because it just really, really "valued discussion." The Verge informed its readers this year it was muzzling an entire readership because it was interested in "building relationships." Reuters, Recode, Popular Science all similarly insisted they were pressing the site visitor mute button because they simply adore the readership relationship and all it entails.

Not to be outdone by this parade of platitudes, Toronto Star Editor Michael Cooke this week also informed his site's readers the Star was eliminating the ability to comment on stories starting on Wednesday, December 16. Why? Because the news outlet simply adores its readership's passion and insight:
"We’ll also be working to foster more insightful commentary from our readers and engage with you in a more meaningful way. 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."
How exactly will this be accomplished moving forward? Like all the other comment-killing websites, the Star will lazily shove its readers toward social media, while highlighting only Star approved user thoughts and feedback received privately via e-mail:
"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. We’re looking forward to hearing from you — weigh in today at comments@thestar.ca."
Like most news outlets, The Star dreams of returning to the bygone days of letters to the editor, when you could just pretend idiots and trolls didn't exist, highlighting only staff-approved thought and opinions. Who needs the bi-directional nature of the Internet? Who wants readers pointing out how your authors have screwed up a story? And frankly, who wants to get your loafers dirty interacting with the unwashed masses?

When you close your comment section you're telling your users you don't think their voices matter. When you then insist you closed comments for the sake of "improved conversation," you're telling those same muted customers you think they're all idiots.

As we note every time another site takes the ax to their on-site community, the idea of comment section as some kind of mythical, untameable monster is a myth. Data shows all it takes to dramatically raise the discourse bar in the comments section is actually showing up and giving half a damn. It's neither expensive nor time-consuming to do, but it's a whole lot easier to shut down all public, transparent user feedback, and then pretend it's for the good of the known universe.

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  • identicon
    Michael, 18 Dec 2015 @ 4:11pm

    Techdirt and it's love of these stupid comments makes me sick.

    Clearly you do not have any regard for your readers or their thoughts because you let them all post them on your website.

    Eat a bowl of dicks.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    TechDescartes (profile), 18 Dec 2015 @ 5:30pm

    TechDirt Staff

    What a bunch of comment-unists.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Dec 2015 @ 5:49pm

    Least we still have the law against them from lying when they create a news story. Despite the Former PM's hardest efforts to repeal said law.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Dec 2015 @ 6:10pm

    I'm genuinely curious how many of the e-mail 'comments' the Star gets in the week following this change will be something along the lines of 'Bring back the comments!' or 'I will no longer use your service because of lack of commentary', likely with a lot more swearing and name calling.

    I'm planning on it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    annonymouse, 18 Dec 2015 @ 7:09pm

    So is the Torontostar.Sucks up and running yet?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    kallethen, 18 Dec 2015 @ 7:21pm

    CT News Junkie also recent closed commenting on their site. They deserve some credit though. Instead of spewing bullshit reasons like that it will somehow magically improve communication, they straight up admitted that it was taking too much effort to monitor the bad comment out. I at least appreciated the honesty.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Dec 2015 @ 7:50pm

    "Our objective is to highlight the most thoughtful, insightful and provocative comments from readers ..."

    So long as they happen to be the ones we agree with.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Whatever (profile), 18 Dec 2015 @ 8:39pm

      Re:

      Actually, I think that you miss the point. They can publish the most provocative posts without having to worry about a flame war or having it spiral out of control. They can publish a wider scope of opinion without having to worry about people trying to shout it down.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 18 Dec 2015 @ 8:46pm

        Re: Re:

        You missed the biggest one: They can post stories without having to worry about people pointing out what they got wrong. That I imagine is the real motivator to axe the comments.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 19 Dec 2015 @ 3:44pm

        Re: Re:

        Uh...wut? You think they're going to do that? You think they really have an interest in publishing "...a wider scope of opinion" or "...the most provocative posts"??

        I get the feeling, from most sites, that the truth is opposite of that. For an amusing illustration, compare the NYT's selection of "Best Comments" with the actual content of the comment threads. Echo chamber indeed.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Whatever (profile), 18 Dec 2015 @ 8:36pm

    Not really unusual

    TorStar, like many other media sites, are starting to realize that the comments on their sites do only two things anymore: start fights and give a megaphone to 1%ers of all types. If the goal is engaging your readers, it fails if the readers are discouraged by the types of responses they get.

    Moderating it is a hell of a job. You cannot go with "community" monitoring like Techdirt for the simple reason that a newspaper doesn't have a "priest and choir" relationship with most of the readers. Most of the posters here on Techdirt are "amen" types, agreeing down the line with almost everything and at most raising minor and esoteric points. It's not hard to have a large choir that does the censorship for you. It works because you don't want a wide variety of viewpoints. A newspaper and news organizations need to accept a wide variety of viewpoints, which makes "self regulation" all but impossible.

    Media sites are starting to realize that getting clobbered by Drudge-bots and Libtards isn't a positive experience for their clients and doesn't add to their brand. Sometimes an open discussion is just not in their best interests.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 18 Dec 2015 @ 9:14pm

      "We value our readers' comments... we just don't want to see them."

      If they don't want to deal with comments, that's one thing, but lying and claiming that they're removing comments in order to foster discussion is a slap in the face to all their readers. That's a pretty blatant admission that they think that their visitors are too stupid to see past the empty words to the real message behind it, and I would hope that they lose a significant portion of their readers for that reason alone.

      Most of the posters here on Techdirt are "amen" types, agreeing down the line with almost everything and at most raising minor and esoteric points.

      Just because everyone doesn't agree with you, or share your positions on things, doesn't mean that they're mindlessly agreeing with what's being presented. If one person says something like 'Fire is hot', and the majority of people agree, is that because they're 'Amen types', or because they agree that yes, fire is indeed hot?

      (Semi-related, but your comment reminded me of one article where pretty much every single person disagreed with the article.)

      People tend to congregate(pun unintended) with those that share similar views on things, so it's hardly surprising that the majority of those that are regulars at TD also tend to agree with the articles posted, and even then the particulars can vary between posters.

      You've got copyright abolitionists, reformers, a handful of maximalists, people who think that there's nothing wrong with 'insulting' trademarks and people who see no problem in them, people who pirate, people who don't, people who agree with the practice, people who don't... the idea that just because most of the regular hold similar views on some topics there's no real discussion is absurd, and all it takes is reading a couple of articles to see this.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Robert, 18 Dec 2015 @ 11:19pm

    Advertisers vs Commentors

    Quite simply boils down to this, when advertisers can control the content, they hate losing control of that content to commentators.
    So the advertisers are forcing the removal of comments. Catch is the world has changed and people like to speak their opinion and the opinions of journalists 'er' professional commentators, does not necessarily take precedence over comments on their article.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Max (profile), 19 Dec 2015 @ 5:56am

    So if telling your readers how much you value comments while you shut down comments isn't the very definition of Doublethink, then what is...? Orwell, did you REALLY need to give them ideas?!?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Glenn, 19 Dec 2015 @ 10:22pm

    Oh, they don't mind their readers talking to them; they just don't want them talking to each other. It's all very logical... really.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Dec 2015 @ 8:00am

    Newspaper comment sections are generally cesspools that few actual people read. (I've heard from a few people who work for newspapers who've said that according to the metrics, a small percentage of people who read a news article actually bother with the comment section). They're mostly a swamp of bigotry and defamation and given the choice of employing staff to moderate the comment sections or close them entirely it's not a surprise more news media are doing away with them, particularly when most readers these days post their responses on Facebook or Twitter.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    GEMont (profile), 20 Dec 2015 @ 10:18am

    The Astro-Turf Section

    Since most web "newspapers" are merely outlets for the brick and mortar Truth Free Press, I cannot see what a comment section would be good for in the first place.

    Its not like pointing out their bullshit is going to stop them from writing what they are told to write by corporate funders and political VIPs. When disseminating bullshit is your job, public scrutiny and analysis of that bullshit is a threat.

    I'm more surprised that any of these "sites" ever even considered having public comments sections in the first place. That they're getting rid of them seems inevitable.

    If they want to appear "webby", then they should just hire a couple of professional bull-shitters to write a ton of daily BS under numerous "handles" and pretend its public discourse. That way the comments section would always support the crap that was published.

    Real posts that were acceptably supportive could also be posted while the rest would simply go into the trash bin, as inappropriate. Since any complaints by "inappropriate" posters would never see the light of day, the reading public would never know the difference.

    ---

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Dec 2015 @ 6:09am

    The Star dreams of returning to the bygone days of letters to the editor, when you could just pretend idiots and trolls didn't exist, highlighting only staff-approved thought and opinions.

    The staff approved thought is the main reason for doing this. They can show only comments they wish to make it appear popular opinion is whatever they want it to be. If they post an article and the majority of comments are against it, then it is hard to sway opinion. The news is no longer interested in reporting, they want to be part of the story and sway the opinion.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Tom Czerniawski, 21 Dec 2015 @ 8:32am

    I completely understand the decision.

    And if you saw the types of comments plaguing the Star's comment section, you'd understand too.

    The Star had the misfortune of receiving the former commenters from the Toronto Sun, when the Sun shuttered its own comments section. The Star is a liberal paper; the Sun is pretty intensely conservative - and as it turns out, conservatives are subhuman, vulgar, racist idiots where-ever you may look.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Paul Robinson, 26 Jan 2016 @ 3:45am

    If it was really over spam, that would be one thing, but...

    I'm not sure myself how to take this, because I had a problem with alleged "people" posting hundreds of spam comments containing links to various Chinese websites, and worst of all, they weren't even good ones like porn or fake erectile dysfunction drugs, they were non-working sites in the .CN name space. I finally had to lock my own blog down because after more than 300 spammy postings and zero comments of any value; I'd have loved to have people come on and post something, *especially* if they seriously disagreed with me, maybe I'd learn something. But all I got was spam, spam and more spam.

    Now, maybe, if that's the sort of thing these newspapers were getting, they could say so, but it doesn't sound like it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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