At National Journal, we believe that public service is a noble calling; that ideas matter; and that trustworthy information about politics and policy will lead to wiser decisions in the national interest. Those principles are reflected in everything we do—from the stories we write, to the events we produce, to the research and insights we offer our members.
But there's one place where those principles don't seem to hold: in the comments that appear at the end of our Web stories. For every smart argument, there's a round of ad hominem attacks—not just fierce partisan feuding, but the worst kind of abusive, racist, and sexist name-calling imaginable.
The debate isn't joined. It's cheapened, it's debased, and, as National Journal's Brian Resnick has written, research suggests that the experience leaves readers feeling more polarized and less willing to listen to opposing views.
The problem isn't unique to National Journal; it crops up on almost every news site.
Some sites have responded by devoting substantial time and effort to monitoring and editing comments, but we'd rather put our resources into the journalism that brings readers to National Journal in the first place. So, today we'll join the growing number of sites that are choosing to forgo public comments on most stories.
We think there are better ways to foster the dialogue we all want. We're going to start by leaving the comment sections open and visible to National Journal's members, a group that's highly unlikely to live by Godwin's Law. Our reporters and editors will remain extremely active and accessible on Twitter, where the discourse is abbreviated but usually civil. You'll find their Twitter handles at the top of every story on National Journal—as well as links to their email addresses if you'd like to engage with them directly. We welcome opposing viewpoints and letters to the editor: Email those to firstname.lastname@example.org. And you can always write to me directly at email@example.com.
From time to time, we'll open the comment sections on specific stories—stories that are likely to provoke reasoned debate, or stories where the unique perspectives and ideas and suggestions of individual readers can add immeasurably to our journalism.
And we're going to leave the comment section open on this piece: We'd like to hear your thoughts on our new policy and your ideas on how to improve the dialogue, not just at National Journal but across the nation as well.