Imagine sitting at your computer, reading an article on News24. You get to the second paragraph and you realize that you don’t feel like you agree with a point made or the topic of discussion hits home. Your first instinct would be to scroll down to the comment section of the page to voice your views or to view the comment section to see how others are feeling about the piece of writing. However, that can’t happen. The above news platform has shut down their comment section as of September 11th 2015. As I am writing this, all I can picture is little comments in speech bubbles fluttering in the air withering to pieces.
The world of journalism is continuously evolving; it’s obvious to all of us – from online newspapers and magazines to robojournalism, change is constant. A key point in today’s journalism is the concept of open journalism. Open journalism (also known as citizen journalism) is where the public use the internet to report news events and play a part in the journalism world. This notion comes in all forms, through blogs and eyewitness reports but also through comment sections.
Many news organisations such as News24, CNN, Reuters and Popular Science, to name a few, have decided to shut down the comment sections on their websites. Editor in Chief for News24, Andrew Trench explained “While News24 is an active proponent of freedom of speech, we believe the comments sections on our news sites are not adding significant value to our content offering and the user experience.” Yes, not all comments will be intelligent or thought provoking, there will be insulting comments, “trolling” and uninformed comments but to close off the public’s voice? Is that really necessary?
I believe that a news organisation has to know its audience, especially to move forward. Regardless of superfluous comments, there are people out there who would like their voice to be heard and sometimes a comment section is how that is possible. Open journalism holds an extraordinary amount of power – it aims to not only inform others but it also assists journalists with extra information.
CNN, another organisation which resorted to closing their comment section, had a piece written by Doug Gross titled “Have online comment sections become ‘a joke’?” – the article focuses on the negativity that some of these comments bring and how they constantly overshadow the intellectual ones.
Nick Denton, founder of blog, Gawker Media explained, “I don’t like going into the comments. For every two comments that are interesting, even if they’re critical, you want to engage with them, there will be eight that are off-topic or just toxic”. This goes hand in hand with what James Fallows of The Atlantic (who does not allow comments on his columns) stressed, “unless a comment stream is actively moderated, it inevitably is ruined by bullies, hotheads and trolls”
There seems to be an obvious trend among the various news organisations that have closed their comment sections – they all focus on the destructive and off-putting comments. However, the public have a lot to say, they have opinions and views that shouldn’t be censored regardless of “trolls”. Freedom of speech is so important, the right to speak your mind on what is happening in society is imperative in growing as a society and in the journalism world.