Open to the Public? NPR Website Getting Rid of All Comments

NPR ombudsman Elizabeth Jensen tenderly noted that the “public” broadcasters were about to look a little less open to the public. NPR.org is is dumping any online commentaries on their stories. This could be seen as lessening the chance a conservative can actually protest their leftist content. All existing comments on the site will disappear, since they "actually live within Disqus, an outside commenting platform used by NPR. So when the commenting software is removed, the archival comments go with it".

They’re hinting this is about economics. Jensen explained their rationale:

In July, NPR.org recorded nearly 33 million unique users, and 491,000 comments. But those comments came from just 19,400 commenters, Montgomery said. That's 0.06 percent of users who are commenting, a number that has stayed steady through 2016….

The conclusion: NPR's commenting system — which gets more expensive the more comments that are posted, and in some months has cost NPR twice what was budgeted — is serving a very, very small slice of its overall audience.

They also guess the commenters  are “not wholly representative of the overall NPR audience: They overwhelmingly comment via the desktop (younger users tend to find NPR.org via mobile), and a Google estimate suggested that the commenters were 83 percent male, while overall NPR.org users were just 52 percent male.” That makes them easier to dismiss, apparently.

Jensen’s article gets more fascinating when the usual NPR snobbery kicks in. Commenters aren’t at all as civilized and intelligent as the NPR on-air product. They spread ‘free hate.” Try not to laugh about NPR being so “honest and unbiased” and free of insults. (Clearly they missed the NPR hour on “Trump may be an insane fascist.”)

Mike Durio, of Phoenix, seemed to sum it up in an email to my office back in April. "Have you considered doing away with the comments sections, or tighter moderation?" he wrote. "The comments have devolved into the Punch-and-Judy-Fest of moronic, un-illuminating observations and petty insults I've seen on other pretty much every other Internet site that allows comments." He added, "This is not in keeping with NPR's take-a-step-back, take-a-deep-breath reporting," and noted, "Now, thread hijacking and personal insults are becoming the stock in trade. Frequent posters use the forums to duke it out with one another."

A user named Mary, from Raleigh, N.C., wrote to implore: "Remove the comments section from your articles. The rude, hateful, racist, judgmental comments far outweigh those who may want to engage in some intelligent sideline conversation about the actual subject of the article. I am appalled at the amount of 'free hate' that is found on a website that represents honest and unbiased reporting such as NPR. What are you really gaining from all of these rabid comments other than proof that a sad slice of humanity that preys on the weak while spreading their hate?"

Jensen finds the NPR brass argues there isn't really any legislative mandate for them to engage the public: "An argument I know NPR will hear, because I've received some letters about it during my tenure, is that NPR, which indirectly receives federal funding (via the membership fees paid by stations) has an obligation to provide such a forum for listeners. It does not, in fact, have any such legal obligation. NPR's obligation is 'to provide information,' not to 'create and maintain a public square.'

Jensen expressed frustration at this sort of commenter layoff: "Seeing the current sorry state of NPR.org commenting, I support the move to end comments. I am also disappointed. The vast majority of NPR-produced shows no longer even run snippets of letters from listeners; this latest move seems like a step backward, as understandable as it is. So I hope NPR will make good on the promises that newer engagement options will be tried out."

From the conservative perspective, it seems quite obvious that the conservative point of view does not get a respectful hearing or anything approaching equal time on this taxpayer-subsidized network. So the scrubbing of  comments merely add another insult, and leave a deeper impression that NPR is an insular network for like-minded liberals.

Tim Graham's picture


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