Why We’re Changing Our Comments Policy

National Journal
Tim Grieve
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Tim Grieve
May 16, 2014, 1:44 a.m.

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 com­ments@na­tion­al­journ­al.com. And you can al­ways write to me dir­ectly at ed­it­or-in-chief@na­tion­al­journ­al.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.

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