Which News Agencies Nuked their Comments Section (and what you can do about it)

Table of Contents

-The Era of Custom-Fit Feel-Good News
-Truth, the Casualty of News Polarization
-Case In Point: The Amazing “Disappearing Comments Section” Trick
-Pigheadedness: The Bad Guys
-The Respectful: The Good Guys
-Members Only Commenting
-It Is Doable
-What Can You Do?

The internet was supposed to be the democratization of news.

It was expected to give power to the people. We thought it would turn the everyday blogger into an independent voice that can reach 6 billion people. In the 90’s we expected that it would loosen the death-grip of the big 3 networks that controlled what people heard and thought about world events around them. We expected that it would help bridge the divide between extreme viewpoints.

Instead it’s become a bully pulpit and part of the most divisive machine in the history of mankind … a palate of competing news sources from right to left, all designed to spoon feed each of us a customized perspective designed to make each person feel superior and ever more convinced that everyone else is wrong.

The Era of Custom-Fit Feel-Good News

Most people (53% as of the last survey) subscribe to an online news service*. The main reason cited for doing so was so that the news reader would be aware of those things that personally interested in them. The reason people gave for subscribing to a specific news source is not to gain a better understanding of what is going in the world (according to the survey) … but rather, people subscribe to what they want to hear (or as the survey put it: “what interested them”). Ask anyone why and they’ll tell you outright… “[such and such news source] just seems more right”, which is code for “I don’t like hearing opinions that I think are wrong”.

Now we live in an era where “fake news” is an epithet thrown carelessly at whatever story that manages to ruffle the feathers of Washington’s elite. As an actual claim it means nothing else other than, “I disagree”. There is little consensus among most news sources and all are guilty of ever increasing hyperbole. Perhaps they are all rightly called “fake news”. Are there any credible news sources left?

In fact, it may be a good thing that we as a society now recognize that nobody should believe anything they read or hear in the news. Media bias was once considered by many as an absurd claim, and the presumption was that of course you can believe what the big 3 said … because it was on TV (1980’s version of “It must be true because I read it on the internet”). Now most people know better. But do they know that their own prized (subscribed) internet news source is at best a lighter shade of dark gray? Probably not … or they would not have subscribed to that news source in the first place.

So are we any better off than the news watchers of 40 years ago when people had more faith in our newscasters, when at least the news outlets seemed to all try to pull a little more toward the middle? Our news certainly is more divisive than it was when all the outlets were pulling in the same direction, even when pulling in the wrong direction … which was always a possibility when TV was king, but if the average of opinions paints a moderate view, then perhaps we’re better off than before… but only when the news watchers share what they see in a respectful way. However that doesn’t happen. We are not so respectful when sharing our favorite news blurb. We are divided as never before.

Truth, the Casualty of News Polarization

If each of us doesn’t make the effort to look outside our preferred window to the world, then we’re much worse off, more stupid, more willfully ignorant, when compared to the age of the almighty TV. At least the TV anchors of yesterday tried somewhat to be unbiased, and civil.

And therein lies the problem … the ever increasing angst … the hyperbole. Truth is invariably the casualty.

Media is more divisive than it has ever been, and the loser of divisiveness is usually the truth. A recent survey among media bias experts showed the field to be evenly split between those who think news will become less reliable and trustworthy, and those who think it will get better.* My vote is that it will get worse, because nobody is making an effort to make it better.

In fact, today’s purveyors of news seem to be making every effort to make truth, the casualty of divisive news, even more remote.

Case In Point: The Amazing “Disappearing Comments Section” Trick

The most egregious example of that is the exclusion of the comments section. Fewer and fewer news sources offer this feature, to where it is now the exception rather than the rule among the biggest news sources. It is not unreasonable to expect that this trend will continue until the public opinion is utterly shut out from the sources that most people visit to get their view on the world.

At one time most all of the major internet news providers had a comments section. It is true that they have been frequent cesspools of hate-speech and pure idiocy, but among the filth and bullheadedness it is not uncommon to find within the comments section enlightening points of view that provide a balance to not only the hate-filled speech and mobocracy … but also to balance out a one-sided story as depicted by the news agency. You could generally find these comments, few though they may be, by the fact that they’re spoken with decency and respect … though occasionally frustrated, and the language may bear out.

I have tried to be that voice of reason from time to time, perhaps more than I should have, and certainly more than was likely fruitful, but it is not uncommon to get a thank-you type response for “being a breath of fresh air”, or “a much needed clear minded counterpoint”, or “the only voice of reason”. I have actually felt that in some way, even if only in a tiny way, that I was doing some good.

Not so much anymore. I’ve been shut up by most of these sources. News sources are saying, “Goodbye pesky alternative opinions. We don’t want you, we don’t need you, and our readers / viewers don’t care”.

Goodbye to every outside opinion that has attempted to be the voice of reason against the pigheaded news-bully behavior of those who think they’re intellectually superior as evidenced by their journalism degrees. As if.

Pigheadedness: The Bad Guys

Here’s a list of very popular internet news authorities who’ve decided that their words are more important that yours (and thereby have removed the ability to add comments):

News Portal That Do NOT Support Public Opinion via a Comments Section:

  • TIME
  • CNBC
  • MSNBC
  • The Atlantic
  • NY Daily News
  • Forbes
  • CNN
  • BBC
  • CBS News
  • US News & World Report
  • Business Insider
  • The Blaze

The Respectful: The Good Guys

And here is a list of those news sources that still respect your opinion and are willing to admit that your opinion is needful, even if you do not have a journalism degree … even if you are not beholden to them as a dutiful employee. These news sources believe you can provide meaningful counterpoint or insight to what their purchased journalists have to say:

News Websites That Still Value Public Opinion via a Comments Section

  • Washington Post
  • Bloomberg
  • USAtoday
  • The HILL
  • FoxNews
  • Yahoo
  • ABC News
  • NewYork Magazine
  • Huffington Post

Members Only Commenting

There are a few websites that are member’s only who can post comments. New York Times does that. They are on a pure subscription model, but anyone can view any of their articles by going into incognito mode, but to post you have to be a paid subscriber of the New York Times. This seems reasonable, but if I’m trying to get a balanced view by reading comments, or corrections to the article, then that’s mostly going to happen when you open it to those who aren’t fans of the media outlet. Again, it’s all about getting a balanced view, and if you can only find an article about a particular subject in only one media outlet, or media outlets of a particular political bent, then only an open forum facilitates that process. In fact when I go to say FoxNews I specifically look for comments by those who’d never subscribe to FoxNews to see what new light they can shed, and although mostly I just hear gripes occasionally I do learn a useful thing or two.

It Is Doable

Now, admittedly, in today’s litigious environment combined with the ever increasing divisiveness and boldness within comments sections the task of maintaining decorum and decency within the comments section has become a bit of a challenge for the larger news agencies. These nine agencies have done it … some better than others. The FoxNews comments section, for example, has traditionally tended to be a festering pit of rude behavior more than that of the other sources, but recent changes using a bot to detect rudeness have really helped there.

With great power comes great responsibility … and this includes the ability to provide a chance for the public to weigh in, and to monitor comments sections for the most offensive of content and provide a system where good standards (politeness, respect, etc) are rewarded, and the opposite are not. News agencies should be up to the task. In the past some solutions to this challenge have made comments sections mere popularity contests which under the right (or wrong) conditions can have disastrous results where mob rule takes over the comments section. There are better ways to do it, and it takes some work and money — which news agencies have. Again, with great power comes great responsibility and they need to pony up to this responsibility. Anyone who claims to be an advocate for free speech must facilitate it among their viewership whenever reasonable.

Political Correlation?

As a side note (and I hesitate to mention this as it threatens to dwarf my original intent here), one would be remiss to not recognize a political correlation with regards to providing comments sections. It seems there is a higher tendency of right-leaning news agencies to allow commenting, but both Huffington Post and Washington Post (both left-leaning) allow commenting, and “The Blaze” which leans hard-right does not allow comments. NYT allows commenting only by their subscribers, which are likely of the same political persuasion (which is the point of this entire article — to get outside of that bubble), so IMHO it doesn’t really count as a balancing forum. So the possible correlation is not strong or consistent enough to draw any conclusions.

That said, all of us, regardless of our political persuasions, are at risk of having the most powerful platform of political dialog entirely ripped out from under us. It’s up to the news reader now to go the extra mile to get both sides of the story, and earn for themselves the prized moniker of “moderate”.

What Can You Do?

What can we do to not only save view-balancing forums like the comments sections? Also how do we insure that we are getting a balanced view from the ever more polarized news sources that bend our ear?

(1) Stop subscribing to news sources that don’t allow the public to have a voice.

(2) If you subscribe to a news service that supports your innate views then that is perfectly reasonable and fully justified, but you still must look outside that news service to broaden your view. Don’t fester on the opinions of your favored news source. Get out there. Become part of the other 47% of people who see the world in a more fair and balanced way.

(3) Use a news aggregator like news.google.com, and do not … I REPEAT: DO NOT settle for whatever news source pops up first for a given story. Just for fun select the 3rd news source down on a particular news item. Or even better: look at each source and ask yourself “do I like this news agency?” and if the answer is “no”, then go there anyway to prove to yourself you’re not a lemming. Read it and try to learn something new. Make “truth” your objective, not “winning the argument” your objective. Don’t try to hone your argument for what you’ve already decided, but hone your understanding about what’s really going on.

(4) Go to news sources that allow comments, and read the comments. At least half the time I read an article with comments I do this, even though 95% of it is junk. The other 5% is worth wading through all the junk. Learn to speed read and you’ll find this takes very little time and effort. While there you might add your bit, if nobody else is representing it.

(5) Comment on those news sources that allow commenting. Become part of the solution by getting involved in the dialog. Ignore and report the haters (and all sites now have resources to do that). Make comments sections better by using those report links … but don’t abuse them by reporting someone just because you don’t like their opinion or attitude. Be classy. Be the 5% that makes it worthwhile to keep these comments sections around.

In that way, and only in that way, can you free yourself from the bullies whose pulpits dominate our news landscape, and consider yourself part of the solution.

Don’t be a lemming. You don’t have to be an independent, but you should at least try to act like one in your news gathering efforts. If your window to the world is too small then you’re more likely to act like a moron. Widen it. Participate. Think. Change your perspective, even if only momentarily. Then think again.

Interested in systems that hedge society for success.