Column: Our comments are leaving; our commitment isn't
Starting next month, you may notice some changes to our website.
Pamplin Media Group and its two dozen community newspapers are taking a step we have been debating for a long time: we're eliminating online comments from our articles, starting Aug. 1.
This news will likely be met with cheers from some online readers, and curses by others, but the decision isn't one we've come to lightly.
Moderating online comments has become increasingly demanding as our resources have been strained by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but more than that, despite our best efforts, comments haven't provided the types of conversations we've been hoping to have with our readers.
Sharing the opinions of our community is a time-honored journalistic tradition dating back more than a century. Newspapers have long believed that readers should be able to publicly discuss issues in their communities and express themselves. It was that belief that led to the creation of our online commenting tools back in the early 2000s. We wanted to be a place where readers could share their thoughts with one another — a digital water cooler where the community could bring fresh perspectives to the stories of the day, share anecdotes and information, strike up conversations and connect with their neighbors.
But, all too often, conversation is the last thing we see. The vast majority of our readers never leave a comment, and what comments we do receive are from only a small handful of dedicated commenters. The comments we do get are often far from civil. The anonymity of the Internet has led an increasing number of commenters to say things they'd never share around that water cooler. They post hateful, misogynistic and sometimes racist comments. Not everyone uses the platform this way, but the number of negative comments far outweighs the productive ones we receive.
Many of our civil commenters have moved to other platforms to share their opinions. They comment on our Facebook and Twitter pages. They write us letters to the editor. They send notes directly to our staff and editors with questions or concerns about our reporting.
We're not alone in this experience. The Oregonian removed all online comments in 2020, and many local news stations haven't allowed online comments for years for these same reasons.
Starting Aug. 1, online comments will no longer be available on our articles. As we work on some changes to our websites, we'll be keeping other avenues for readers to voice their opinions. At the end of each online article will be a link where readers can share their thoughts as a Letter to the Editor, which will be easier for us to collect and moderate than online comments. These letters will not only be available for our digital editions, but also our print editions, reaching a wider audience than an anonymous comment could.
Our social media accounts, such as Facebook and Twitter, are also a great way to comment on the news of the day. Readers can also interact with our staff online. Nearly all of our reporters are available on social media and all our staff's contact information can be found on our Contact Us page.
This decision, after all, is about driving conversation, so let's start that conversation now. What do you think about this decision? Love it? Hate it? Couldn't care less? Send us a Letter to the Editor and share your thoughts.
We are always looking for better ways to engage with our readers. We value your opinions, and hearing from you is important to us. We still strive to be that "community water cooler." We know that this community works best when it works together. Our diverse backgrounds and experiences help shape our collective conversations. We firmly believe that.
So, what are your thoughts?
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.