NPR Is Getting Rid of Its Comments Section

Mainly because there's not much happening there.

If you were to assume NPR.org was closing its comments section because of trolls and other comment abuse (which does exist), you would be wrong. The main reason NPR is deserting the section because it has largely become a desert.

To quantify this, Scott Montgomery, NPR’s managing editor of digital news, explained to ombudsman Elizabeth Jensen that in a July in which NPR.org had 33 million uniques, there were 491,000 comments generated by 19,400 commenters, or .06 percent of visitors. “NPR’s commenting system—which gets more expensive the more comments that are posted, and in some months has cost NPR twice what was budgeted—is serving a very, very small slice of its overall audience,” writes Jensen.

Beginning Aug. 23, that small slice will have to take its comments elsewhere.

Unsurprisingly, Montgomery puts social media at the top of his list for engagement methods in a comment section-less NPR. This includes its 50 Twitter accounts and 30 Facebook pages along with Snapchat, Instagram and Tumblr, as well as journalists’ own social accounts. Montgomery also points to email, for which there is “an entire team devoted to Audience Relations, who read and personally respond to thousands of listener emails every month,” as a way to get in touch. NPR’s ombudsman also makes the list.

Jensen, in turn, points to reader emails critical of the comments section in her assessment of the decision. Her ultimate conclusion:

Seeing the current sorry state of NPR.org commenting, I support the move to end comments. I am also disappointed. The vast majority of NPR-produced shows no longer even run snippets of letters from listeners; this latest move seems like a step backward, as understandable as it is. So I hope NPR will make good on the promises that newer engagement options will be tried out.

Those options include the introduction of a new platform, Hearken, in which NPR’s audience will have an opportunity to work with journalists on generating ideas for stories. And it doesn’t preclude the return of comments, if NPR can find a system that works.

If you’re wondering how many comments Montgomery and Jensen’s posts have received, it’s currently at 243 and 162, respectively.