Users of NPR’s website will no longer be able to comment on story pages starting next week, the network announced Wednesday.
NPR has allowed comments on its site for eight years, but after “much experimentation and discussion, we’ve concluded that the comment sections on NPR.org stories are not providing a useful experience for the vast majority of our users,” said Scott Montgomery, NPR’s managing editor for digital news, in a post on NPR’s site. (It had drawn over 100 comments as of this afternoon.)
NPR will cut off the comments Tuesday. Numerous sites have already removed comment sections, which can become hotbeds of spam, trolling and abusive language toward authors, especially women and people of color. A Guardian study of its comments found that of the 10 writers most abused by commenters, eight were women and two were black.
NPR said it is making the change partly because only a small number of readers actually comment. The site had 79.8 million users in the last three months, Montgomery pointed out, and only 2,600 left a comment each month.
Last month, the site received 491,000 comments, and all those comments aren’t cheap, according to NPR Ombudsman Elizabeth Jensen in a post discussing the change. The commenting system “gets more expensive the more comments that are posted, and in some months has cost NPR twice what was budgeted,” she wrote in the post.
Meanwhile, more than 5 million people engage with NPR on Twitter each month, she added.
“Seeing the current sorry state of NPR.org commenting, I support the move to end comments,” Jensen wrote. “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.”
Because NPR uses the third-party platform Disqus for commenting, comments on all articles will be removed when commenting is discontinued, Jensen wrote.
In lieu of comments, Montgomery said, NPR will continue to engage with its audience on social media and through projects like the Tiny Desk Contest. Soon it will also begin using the Hearken platform, which solicits questions from readers for an organization’s reporters to answer. Member stations and other media outlets use Hearken as well, including Current. NPR will use it on its Goats and Soda blog and may expand it further.
Correction: An earlier version of this post inaccurately stated that NPR’s website received 33 million comments in July. There were 491,000. The post was also updated to clarify that 2,600 people left a comment in each of the last three months.