Go to nearly any news site in the world and at the end of an article you can leave your comments. In some cases you need to be part of a community, in others you can submit anonymously. But almost always on any news outlet’s site you can leave your comments.
This week Richard Connor of the Portland Press Herald once again made headlines for making a decision for his paper. (You may remember him as the man who apologized for publishing a picture of Muslims on 9/11.) This time it was disabling the comment section on every, single article.
He wrote to the audience explaining why the decision was made. It was posted on the website, and I would include that link except less than 12 hours after it was posted it was removed.
When I asked via Twitter to the people behind the PPH’s Twitter account why the link was down the only response I got was this:
I asked a couple of people I know who work at the paper and none were willing to go on the record as to why the link was down but the comments still disabled.
That was until this morning when, without notice or explanation, the comment sections were back working. It’s under a different program, and I’m sure staff will argue easier to moderate. But still nothing from the publisher as to the process the paper went through or what they expect from readers or even why they switched.
As for commenting on articles I can see both sides. Engaging your audience is helpful for storytelling and discussion. You will find amazing people, insights and additional stories within those comments.
But sometimes you also find hateful, disrespectful comments. Those are the ones that often get too much of the attention. Very rarely will you find people who openly agree with those comments, but they’re out there.
In the end, I think what makes me so confused about what happened with the PPH this week is that it went from a very open process to a very discreet, secretive one. When media is looking for higher approval ratings and transparency, this doesn’t seem like the way to do it. Hiding from your audience will only make them question you more.
What do you think of news sites allowing comments on articles? Who should be responsible for moderating those comments?