At least two daily newspapers owned by Alden Global Capital’s MediaNews Group will end reader comments on July 1.
The Boston Herald announced the move earlier today, saying that the change was being made to “dramatically speed up the performance of the website” as well as on its mobile platforms. The Denver Post took the same action last week, although editor Lee Ann Colacioppo cited bad behavior rather than technology, writing that the comment section has become “an uncivil place that drives readers away and opens those trying to engage in thoughtful conversation to hateful, personal attacks.”
Both papers emphasized that readers will still be able to talk back at them through social media platforms.
Wondering if this were a MediaNews-wide action, I tried searching about a half-dozen papers in the 60-daily chain and could find no similar announcements. I found something else interesting as well. The eight larger dailies that comprise the Tribune Publishing chain, which Alden acquired a couple of years ago, are now included as part of MediaNews Group, although they are still listed separately as well. (A ninth, the Daily News of New York, was split off from Tribune and is being run as a separate entity.)
The moves by the Herald and the Post represent just the latest in the long, sad story of user comments. When they debuted about a quarter-century ago, they were hailed as a way of involving the audience — the “former audience,” as Dan Gillmor and Jay Rosen put it. The hope was that comments could even advance stories.
It turned out that comments were embraced mainly by the most sociopathic elements. Some publishers (including me for a while) required real names, but that didn’t really help. The only measure that ensures a civil platform is pre-screening — a comment doesn’t appear online until someone has read it and approved it. But that takes resources, and very few news organizations are willing to make the investment.
The best comments section I know of belongs to the New Haven Independent, where pre-screening has been the rule right from the start. Keeping out racist, homophobic hate speech opens up the forum for other voices to be heard. The New York Times engages in pre-screening as well.
So kudos to the Boston Herald and The Denver Post — and I hope other news outlets, including The Boston Globe, will follow suit.