billingsgazette.com turns its back on the digital age and reverts to snail mail

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Yet another online media outlet  has shut off the comment section’s on their articles.At a time when media companies are struggling to survive, they should  ask themselves why their  comments hold so much ridicule and criticism.  If they do not want to see certain comments it is not that hard to moderate them.Technology makes it easy but most MSM these days do not value their readers enough to allow them to have their say.

The Billings Gazette is so backward that they now expect their readers to send a physical letter to the editor. This is as ridiculous as expecting someone to send a message via carrier pigeon. We communicate in the ” instant ” digital world. It is insulting to their readers to expect them to revert to snail mail. It is as silly as a BMW dealership telling their customers to buy an actual horse if they want more horsepower.

What began as a noble experiment in conversation has been mired in name-calling, epithet and trolling. There have been at least four iterations of commenting on The Billings Gazette’s website since it began. Each had a limitation on how much control it could exert. Few commenting strings stayed civil. Most resulted in the electronic equivalent of a bar fight — insults about nothing.

That’s why beginning Tuesday, we’re turning off comments. Yes commenters, that means you have two days to talk about how stupid you think this column is. Consider it a parting gift.

The Gazette is not the first to do it. National Public Radio decided it was time to pull the plug on comments last month. We’re not even the first in our company to do it — the Quad Cities Times is about two weeks ahead of us.

We want to talk with our readers. We want community conversations. We need honesty, if not pointed feedback. That’s what makes democracy and the Fourth Estate run.

However, conversation is different than cussing out; ideas aren’t the same as insults. Too often for too long too little good has come from these. And while part of our brand and mission has been to foster a conversation and engage with the readers, I cannot say that people felt better about The Gazette because it gave the equivalent of a graffiti wall. In other words, the commenting space was a place for people to write offensive things for others to see later. It just happened to be on our website.

For every good, thoughtful, insightful comment there were dozens of them trying to identify a victim of sexual assault. Our comment filter set to catch obscenities and epithets was set at 421, with new permutations added almost every day. It was a testament to human ingenuity, and a horrible use of the symbols @ and $.

Our comment section no longer looks like the one at The Daily Blog or The Standard so clearly any media organisation that really wants to encourage ” thoughtful, insightful comments ” can do so if it genuinely has the desire to support “community conversations.”

Sometime — some day — when either the technology allows for more transparency, or if there’s a desire to bring back comments, we may look it at. But for now, commenters have until Tuesday.

…Commenting on stories for everyone to see can still be done. It’s called “a letter to the editor,” and we’ll still gladly take those— just remember to include your real name and telephone number.

-billingsgazette.com

The answer to their problem is right there in the last sentence. If commenters can only comment if they have been verified and provide their real name and telephone number then I suspect that good behaviour will break out immediately.


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