Don’t read the comments.
It’s become a mantra for people who want to save their mental health by avoiding the “bottom bit” of news websites.
Here at InDaily, we’ve tried to offer an alternative over many years. For most of those years – first as the Independent Weekly newspaper and then the digital-only InDaily – we’ve accepted reader comments via letters or emails.
In more recent years, we’ve accepted comments on individual stories. Our readers have taken up that opportunity with varying degrees of enthusiasm. But, overall, the volume of comments has grown from a trickle to a flood as the readership of InDaily has continued to expand.
From the beginning, we’ve moderated every comment, to protect ourselves (and our readers) from defamation action, but also to try to create a discussion that adds value to our independent journalism.
We love comments that challenge us, correct us where necessary, and that add context and a broader range of experiences and voices.
We have, thankfully, avoided the lawyers, but I’m not convinced we always hit the mark in having a discussion which is consistently enlightening and respectful. Certainly, we publish many intelligent, worthwhile comments, but we also receive contributions that are either bluntly abusive or politically partisan, in a rather reductive, unenlightening fashion. I think we can do better.
After much thought, as of tomorrow, we will be turning off the online comments function on the majority of stories – but this doesn’t mean we are switching off debate.
Readers will be invited to submit comments via email (more instructions will be provided within articles from tomorrow). Comments that meet our standards – which are about brevity, clarity and respect – will be published in a regular “reader views” post, with links back to the relevant stories. You can provide pithy one-liners, or something more detailed. Particularly interesting and relevant comments will be embedded in published articles, making informed reader views more prominent than they ever have been before. We will also publish the occasional open comment pieces in which we will actively seek your input and experiences using the traditional comments function. In addition, we are exploring new ways to engage with readers – more on that as the year progresses.
Most importantly, we will no longer accept anonymous comments. We will, if absolutely necessary, keep someone’s identity private at their request – but InDaily’s editors will need to know who you are and why you are requesting anonymity. The online world is full of places where anonymous people yell at each other. What we want is a different kind of forum. From tomorrow, we will provide instructions at the bottom of each article about how to verify your identity with us and continue to comment on the issues that matter to you.
I urge readers to keep commenting. Let’s see what we can do, together, as a community, to foster informed and robust, but respectful, discussion.
I would like to thank everyone who has contributed comments to our pages, those who read us regularly without commenting, and those who support us financially and in other ways. We remain fired up about providing South Australia with a truly independent media voice.
As a result of this change, my hope is that InDaily will become a place where people say: “you must read the comments”.
David Washington is editor of InDaily.
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