KINGMAN – The Kingman Daily Miner will stop allowing comments on the stories published on the newspaper’s website, www.kdminer.com, as of today, Feb. 1, said Richard Haddad, news content director for Miner parent company Western News & Info.
The move comes in the wake of mounting evidence that suggests reader comments might unduly influence public perception of a story’s content.
Last April, for example, the publication Science Daily reported a study of 1,700 internet users. They had them read an article regarding health news twice. The first article featured mostly favorable comments regarding giving birth at home rather than in a hospital. Study participants favored home birth.
But when they read the same story with a majority of negative comments they were inclined to oppose home births.
Two years earlier, The Atlantic magazine conducted an informal survey in which they asked survey takers to read a story with comments, and then others read the same article without comments. They were asked to give an opinion.
“Respondents who saw comments evaluated the article as being of lower quality – an 8 percent difference. In other words, authors are judged not just by what they write but by how people respond,” according to The Atlantic.
A study by the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication arrived at a similar finding: People who read negative comments regarding a story “perceived the news report to be more hostile and partial in its coverage.”
The Chicago Sun-Times did away with comments a few years ago, as did CNN, NPR, Bloomberg, USA Today FTW, Popular Science, Reuters, and tech news site Recode.
“Over the past year, we took a hard look at comments being posted to the stories, and based on our counts, the same 15 or 20 people accounted for up to 80 percent of the comments,” said Haddad. “We felt that this was not a good reflection of the community’s voice on our websites.”
Haddad also said while some people might complain that (the Miner) is trying to stifle dissenting opinions or censor freedom of speech, “now more than ever, there are plenty of places online where people can discuss their opinions in a public forum.”
The findings that suggests readers could be influenced to believe a story is slanted or biased in any way based on comments was a “driving force” in the move, said Haddad.
“I think this is a good change,” said Kingman Daily Miner Publisher Debbie White-Hoel. “We are committed to reporting local community news rather than moderating comments from a handful of anonymous users with no accountability.”
The redundancy of comments and the lack of accountability – and the vitriol that often accompanies comments – also played a major role in the decision. The dominant complaint from readers who visit the Miner's website is that they are tired of the tone of comments, particularly the personal attacks.
“We had long hoped that comments would have been similar to a town hall for people to express their views and exchange ideas,” said Daily Miner Editor Shawn Byrne. “We will continue to reach out to readers for your opinions with the inclusion of Rants & Raves.”
The Rants & Raves feature will be placed at the end of each story posted online, along with links to submit a letter to the editor, offer news tips or ask questions about a story. These submissions will go directly to an editor, who will ensure they are addressed. Disclosure: Rants & Raves may be published in print and online.