Another comment section bites the dust

The full promise of the internet’s potential to change the relationship between journalists and the audience remains relatively elusive and a decision by the producers of the public radio talk show “1A” are the latest to prove it.

They’re closing the show’s comment section for the usual reasons, according to a post on the show’s website Wednesday.

We are grateful for the engagement and contributions we receive about the show, our guests, the topics and whatever else might be on your mind. We are going to be making some changes to our website, and we’re still working on this redesign, so nothing is happening immediately.

We hope the information about the show, our guests and our topics will be easier to find and share. But part of this redesign includes changes we will make to the comments section on each segment page.

We don’t have endless resources. We cannot be everywhere. That makes it hard to moderate comments, and we have noticed that lewd bots have found a way in. On May 20, we’ll be shutting down our comments section.

Further, given the technical vulnerabilities on this platform and the limited number of users who comment, our plans for the new site do not include a comments section. That decision is not about shutting down debate. It’s an effort to have a better one; with more users and on platforms where users can be verified, and the bots can be called out and blocked.

Whether it is on Facebook or Twitter, we have plenty of other areas where folks can engage, debate, argue and ask questions. There’s also the 1A app, VoxPop, old-fashioned email and our text club. We will concentrate on building audience engagement and feedback in the future in these areas, and you can find the links to all those platforms here.

We look forward to your feedback about the comments section, what you’d like to see from our new website or anything else you’d like to share with us.

— 1A‘s Executive Producer, Rupert Allman

As usual in these things, news organization list alternatives — all of them bad — for those who still have something to say.

But that’s never been the promise of the internet. Real “engagement” — that’s the buzzword of newsroom marketing on these matters — isn’t about providing a place for the audience to say something; it’s about creating a newsroom that will listen.

The internet was supposed to destroy the “patriarchal” system of news in which the audience engagement would lead to a more informed news audience. We — journalists — would respond to the knowledge of the audience.

That’s happened somewhat — we chase Twitter, even if the only content we get out of it is usually “hey, there’s this viral thing happening on Twitter”, but it hasn’t really transformed the journalism even a little bit.

There’s plenty of blame to go around. Newsrooms are scared to death of actually engaging with the audience for fear of destroying our credibility — whatever that means. Comments weren’t moderated, thus allowing the space to become a cesspool of nonsense in which people with something to say were too intimidated from saying it. And too many people, who now think and communicate in short Twitter-style bursts that don’t lend themselves to introspection and invite self-reflection in working through issues, had nothing of value to say.

This is the “next big thing” reality of core media in 2019. There is little time for any of it — podcasts are the current next big thing — to have an impact before organizations have no choice but to move onto the next big thing or perish.

Years from now, some organization somewhere will come up with a novel idea that they insist will revolutionize journalism and the way newsrooms “engage” with an audience. It will be so groundbreaking, they will be invited to present their experience at conferences of journalists, desperate to remain relevant in a turbulent world of news. And attendees will rush home to reveal to their bosses that they’ve discovered the component that will save their newsroom.

They will call it: a blog.