The Oregonian, Oregon’s largest newspaper, announced this week that as of Jan. 2 its website, OregonLive, will stop accepting and posting reader comments.
This isn’t shocking — many newspapers, of varying sizes, have eliminated reader comments from their websites over the past several years.
The Baker City Herald is not on that list.
Nor do I expect that it will be any time soon.
Which is not to say I don’t understand the issues that Oregonian officials cited in an editorial announcing the paper’s decision to get rid of its commenting feature.
These include a relatively small percentage of people posting a majority of the comments, and a lack of civility among the online discussions.
The latter, in particular, will sound familiar to anyone who has given more than a cursory glance to such forums.
Ideally, offering people a chance to post comments enriches websites, stimulates discussion and debate and gives readers perspectives they wouldn’t otherwise have.
Indeed I believe that happens.
But I can hardly pretend that the benefits aren’t sometimes overwhelmed, at least based solely on volume, by ad hominem attacks and tangential comments that devolve into exchanges, often between two or three people, which have little if anything to do with the article, editorial or column to which the comments are attached. And the anonymity afforded to online commentators contributes to the coarseness.
These problems have plagued the Herald’s website at times.
And I empathize with The Oregonian’s lament that moderating comments to weed out the more egregious offenders “takes time and resources that are better spent producing independent local news.”
That’s a far greater challenge for The Oregonian, which measures comments in the thousands, than for the Baker City Herald.
But on balance I believe that continuing to accept and to publish comments on our website gives our subscribers something of value. And so long as I think so, I feel compelled to keep the commenting option.
Websites are ubiquitous, of course, but I remember before the Herald’s site debuted in 2001, an era when readers’ ability to engage with the newspaper, and with each other, was limited to submitting letters to the editor.
That’s still the format I prefer, mainly because letters, unlike online comments, are preserved in ink on paper — what I consider the “real newspaper” rather than the version rendered in pixels. Letter writers don’t have the option of anonymity, either.
Yet comments, as I mentioned, help to make the Herald the marketplace of information and opinions that it has been for 150 years. Notwithstanding the chaff that comes along with the harvest of ideas, I don’t want to deprive our readers of the nutritious kernels that sift out.
— Jayson Jacoby, Baker City Herald editor