I would like to claim responsibility for Popular Science removing its comment section, but I am sure it had little do with my rant a few weeks ago.
That said, I was thrilled to read their post that ‘in the name of science,’ they’ve turned their comments off.
John Kroll writes in this blog post that there is no good reason to turn off the comments. In fact, he says turning them off is lazy and has little to do with science, and much to do with the bottom line.
Maybe it did have to do with the bottom line, but let’s take a look at some of his points:
Writers Should Be in The Comments To Moderate, Too
While its true that hiring a good moderating team, or paying for platforms, like Gawker’s Kinja to host comments and break the wall between writers and readers can be a good business model, it’s not for everyone. If you think about a publication like Popular Science, or even The New York Times or Huffington Posts, that deal with bazillions of comments a day — it is a problem to force writers into the comments. It comes down to two different views of what digital publishing should be. Forcing writers into the comments in the name of reader engagement only sustains the current paradigm of digital publishing: make writers do ten things at once, for the same (small) amount of money. Yes, they should be engaged with readers — on social media, via email, in a hypothetical weekly Q&A. But asking writers to also spend time after posting something reading the comments puts them in the bubble and does have the potential to ruin the quality of content. They could be looking up more leads, more scoops, and actually fine-tuning their work. If, as Kroll mentions, you need to make the writer the copy editor, they shouldn’t have to do PR and engagement work, too. Writers, unite!
No One Wants to Be a Comment Moderator
It’s a thankless job, but one that could be a paid, entry level position on a social media team. Or given to an intern, who at leasts get credit for the job. Kroll notes that just deleting comments is problematic, borders on censorship, and pubs should hire moderators with a heart of stone. That sounds good in practice, but in theory: it’s a bit of a pickle. You can subscribe to the “our house, our rules,” but just having a heart of stone means that eventually, a well argued, but against popular opinion comment runs the chance of being deleted. When you’re talking about journalism, you’re also talking about ethics. You either have a comment section, moderated for spam, and controlled for stupidity by the commenting community (via the increasingly popular “up” and “down” voting system) or not at all.
Popular Science didn’t say they didn’t want to engage with readers. It’s just more effectively done on Twitter or with the ‘big’, interesting stories that they run. We’re all posting a bazillion (again, a technical term) posts each day — some merit discussion, others not so much.