Recently, we shut off commenting on the site for a variety of reasons — most of the comments had become repetitive and mean-spirited. A lot of the comments were clearly in violation of our reader comment policy. As such, we deleted quite a few of them each week. We’re a small organization and we just ran out of time and energy to continually moderate hundreds of comments each week, so we called a timeout.
That’s not to say all comments have been bad, or that none of them have provided value. There have been plenty of cogent, reasonable, informed discussions below our stories over the years. As of today, there are about 46,000 comments posted on the site. That doesn’t include all those that were deleted, and still more disappeared as we have migrated through a few different content-management systems over the years.
In the big scheme of things, that time spent reading comments — away from reporting and all the other things we need to do as a small business — has been costly. It’s hard to quantify at this point. How many more news stories could we have covered? It’s a fair question and it’s one that has been on our minds as we considered a way forward.
Aside from the lost time, technology has changed significantly since the original construction of this site in 2005 with its closed, proprietary commenting system. In fact, it’s pretty clear that maintaining comments in that configuration has been holding us back in some ways.
Realistically, social media platforms do a much better job of managing comments and they also generate significant numbers of visits to our site. A big portion of our visitors already arrive from social media platforms, with Facebook leading the way in that group. So the logical and most productive way forward for us is to institute Facebook commenting on CTNewsJunkie. The process of putting that into effect began on Friday afternoon. It’s not working quite right yet — in fact it’s kind of a mess at this point. Give us a few days.
But going forward this means that in order to comment on stories on the site, you’ll need to do so via Facebook, where you will need to register and set up an account. The way it works, readers who want to comment will have the option to check a box to share the story among your Facebook friends. This helps us by generating interest in the information we are reporting among your Facebook friends, and you get to manage your own conversations about those stories.
If you don’t want your comments moderated by us at all, your best bet is to copy the link to the story or op-ed and then share it in your social networks with whatever opinion you want to express.
But if you sign in to Facebook and use the comment field below any of our stories, we’ll still have to ensure that comments meet our standards on the site. Readers should police comments as well.
A good rule to follow is to read it out loud before you post it and ask yourself, is that a polite thing to say? Ask yourself whether you would you say that in person over dinner? If the answer to that question is “no,” maybe don’t post it. Hateful, mean-spirited comments do not add to any conversation in a helpful way.
The news industry has always offered opportunities for readers to be heard through letters to the editor and other forms of commentary. But those were always handled by a full- or part-time employee whose job it was to select the best letters. It’s quite clear to us that there was value in that vetting process.
Today, readers have become accustomed to instant gratification and the opportunity to post utter nonsense or personal, partisan attacks. And partisanship also leads to terrible incivility. As a result, studies indicate that online commenting can serve to diminish the perception of the value of the news product itself, simply based on the tone of the comments below a story. Instant gratification and reader anonymity have not improved journalism by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, the deluge of misinformation has probably made matters worse.
Based on that, we’ve switched over to Facebook commenting with high hopes that the community will hold itself to a higher standard than in the past. If it becomes more uncivil than it’s already been, we may just shut down comments again for good and push them onto social media entirely.
It’s a new year — change can be good and it was time for some here. As always, thanks for reading CTNewsJunkie these past 10 years.