Getting rid of comment sections

Margaret Sullivan, writing at The Washington Post about the growing trend of news sites getting rid of their comments sections:

I disagree. I find value in reader comments that can’t be adequately reproduced elsewhere. The argument that the conversation has migrated to Facebook and Twitter is flawed. Those are good places for discussion, but they are no substitute for having discussion take place where the story itself lives. I’m convinced that many smart readers with something to contribute will not follow a story onto social media to talk about it. News organizations should fix online comments rather than ditch them.

They need fixing, for sure. Too often, they are a place where trolls congregate, ready to offer their mean-spirited opinions. Too often, comments are racist, misogynistic, abusive and even libelous. They can also hurt newsgathering, sometimes criticizing reporters’ sources and making them more reluctant to talk to reporters next time.

Sullivan is right that online reader comments are valuable and that moving them to some other, third-party service (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) is, at best, a second-rate solution.

However, it is clearly a struggle for sites with even moderately large reader bases to maintain the civility within their comments sections. I can understand why NPR and the like might make the decision to eliminate them–while it's a shame that they can't be groomed and maintained, I suppose no comment section at all is better than a completely unrestrained one that is full of trolls and hate.

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