Student Newspaper’s New Policy: No Comments Allowed

The Daily Egyptian at Southern Illinois University Carbondale has disabled the comments feature that follows all stories run on its Web site.  In a note to readers (which I first found via UWIRE), top editor Allison Petty wrote that the mean-spirited, at-times slanderous “sexism, racism, immaturity and malice” being posted had overwhelmed the constructive dialogue and left DE editors without an argument as to why comments should be allowed at all.

The kickers, according to Petty, included: an extreme spewing of vitriol at the newspaper in the comments section for its recent coverage of the murders of three members of a DE staffer’s family (apparently some students felt it was self-indulgent); and a comment calling a black student leader an “ape.”  Petty: “Congratulations. It is not easy to offend college students who spend most of their time in a newsroom, but some of you have persevered, pursuing standards of bad taste to depths so subterranean we could not help but take note.”

I give the newspaper credit.  It takes courage to stand up and call out the very readership you represent.  The no-comments stance undoubtedly raises an important larger point: Does the comments portion of journalism’s new media adventure need an overhaul?  It’s certainly true that on many student and professional outlets’ sites, the comments after articles tend to amount to little more than the type-and-click version of graffiti, playground bullying or drunken-Mel-Gibson-type-rants.  Sometimes they are funny.  Sometimes they rightfully call out an article’s failings.  Sometimes they are better written or more insightful than the article itself.  Often, however, they are just nonsensical, vindictive, and not worthy of the news outlet or even the commenters who are usually too cowardly to sign their names.

What’s the answer?  Should all comments require names and basic identifying information similar to that which is needed for old-fashioned letters to the editor (remember those?)?  Should each comment require approval by editors, similar to the WordPress template?  Should the comments feature only be used for certain stories or in certain sections such as opinions?  (For a blog, comments seem helpful, necessary even, in the spirit of conversation and interaction.  But I have personally never seen the relevance of allowing comments after a news story- and if you notice, neither does The New York Times).

Petty sums up her perspective beautifully, mostly Shakespeare, with a bit of Dave Barry at the end:

Words are the currency of journalists, the sacrament of writers. Words are incredible, versatile things. They can build bridges or burn them; make people laugh or make them cry; rouse nations or render them speechless. The ability to read the newspaper, to make sense of a sentence, to take pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and communicate your thoughts – this is a priceless gift. Grow up and stop squandering it. And sign your freaking name.

What do you think???  (Be the first to comment on this post!)

2 Responses to “Student Newspaper’s New Policy: No Comments Allowed”
  1. I’m glad we don’t have this problem. We love our online comments. We love them so much we started last week taking the most interesting comments and printing them in the next issue of the paper along with the letters to the editor.

  2. As an adviser for a paper, I am trying to advise the kids what to do. We wrote a controversial article and I wonder how useful the comments section at the end of the articles actually is.

    It seems to be a place for “glorified graffiti” and full of anger from the readers. It’s also a place for kids to post stuff with the identity of some of the people in the article. We would never let someone post these kinds of ideas in the paper, and yet we allow them to occur under our “flag” on the web. Seems wrong.

    Also, the staff is posting stuff arguing with the readers. Not a good business model to ask readers to comment and then fight with them. Perhaps a “Ask the Editor” might be a feature for the web, but I can only imagine the quetons that might be left.