When NancyOnNorwalk began seven years ago (light years in internet time), the comments section was conceived as a ‘digital town square,’ where residents could meet and discuss issues that we’d reported on. Readers came together as a community and talked about all things related to our coverage of politics, education, and land use in Norwalk.
Comments sections were the model of the day for most news outlets, and ours was fairly robust. Often, a commenter would inform a particular story, either with additional first-hand or historic background that provided a richer experience for our readers. We had – and still have – local politicians contributing to the discussions, offering up a true opportunity for vibrant local dialog.
But over time, our comments section has devolved into a small group of individuals who are quite vocal about their agendas. You know who you are. (Most of the readers do too, although some of you have had to be put in moderation or, worse, have been banned from commenting entirely.) Some commenters are elected or appointed officials (past and present), others call themselves activists, and some just simply want to say their piece. And, sad to say, some are just bullies.
A recent study from the Center for Media Engagement determined that, on average, it takes 18.4 seconds minutes to moderate a comment for a news site. Moderating comments makes moderators more emotionally exhausted, the study states.
Moderating what is often bad behavior puts stress upon our shoestring operation. Most news outlets have abandoned comments sections in the past few years, primarily because of the challenges that moderation presents.
So, we would like to put the question to our readers directly: Is it time to kill the comments section?
Note: We’ve prepared a short Reader Survey to get your feedback – or you can simply use the comment box to let us know what you think.
But do it nicely, please.
This article was altered after publication to show that the average time to moderate a comment is thought to be 18.4 seconds minutes, not 24 minutes as was originally written, and to highlight other problems with moderating comments.