‘The Pub’ #74: NPR ditches online comments — should you?

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Comments about comments; Myers (top); Srbinovich

Comments about comments; Myers (top); Srbinovich

I’ve always been fascinated by the small corps of people who seem to spend an enormous share of their days commenting at NPR.org, usually to allege bias of one sort or another. Who are they? Why do they care so much about what NPR does? How do they have so much time to care about what NPR does?

Now I have a new question: What are they going to do now that NPR is banishing comments from its site? On this week’s episode of The Pub, my favorite perennial NPR.org commenter speaks — “Sanpete from Utah” is his handle. Call him Kent.

Also on the show, should your organization follow NPR’s lead in dumping on-site comments in favor of engagement on other platforms, like Facebook and Twitter? Inside Higher Ed v.p. and former NPR social product manager Kate Myers and WDET g.m. Michelle Srbinovich disqus — er, I mean, discuss.

Want the short version of our chat? Srbinovich thinks comments may work better at the station level than at the network, though she’s still not a big fan; Myers doesn’t love comments either, but she says you can’t expect to replace that kind of engagement with social media without making some significant investments; I argue it’s essential for audience reactions to be appended to the content in question, one way or another.

(Here’s the study that Myers cites on the show, about how comments affect audience perceptions.)

Please subscribe to The Pub in iTunes or your favorite podcast app, and leave us a rating and a comment! That will help boost our search results and allow people to find the show more easily.

We welcome your feedback on the show: You can reach me at adam@current.org or @aragusea on Twitter; my supervising producer at Current, Mike Janssen, is at mike@current.org; and you can contact Current generally at news@current.org or @currentpubmedia on Twitter.

If you’d like to offer a comment to be used in the program, please send on-mic tape (recorded in a studio, with a kit, a smartphone, anything) to adam@current.org either as an attachment or through Google Drive. Please keep it short!

Adam Ragusea hosts Current’s weekly podcast The Pub and is a journalist in residence and visiting assistant professor at Mercer University’s Center for Collaborative Journalism.

  • Mark Pugnar

    I really enjoyed hearing Sanpete’s very thoughtful and reflective responses. Even though he didn’t have the “professional” style radio presentation, it was great to hear him speak! It was especially interesting if you compare his segment with the two more confident interviews. They also brought up some good points, but since they were more comfortable giving answers, sometimes they wandered when giving their responses.

    Adam, are you the only journalist that responds to comments on the pieces you produce? I appreciate that you engage with the public comments from your critics. I think you are better for taking into consideration what your opponents think.

    Perhaps NPR is simply doesn’t want to hear criticism from the public. After all NPR is professional journalism and who would know better what a news organization should be. The general public doesn’t know all the intricacies that are involved in producing the news.

    • Lencho

      “Perhaps NPR is simply doesn’t want to hear criticism from the public.”

      Not likely, as there is still email, FB, Twitter, USPS, and the telephone.
      I doubt that NPR read the comment sections often, as most of the negative feedback was either petty, petulant, partisan or ill-informed.

      • Sanpete

        There was plenty of valid criticism of NPR in the comments, but even petty, petulant, partisan or ill-informed criticism could help NPR get a better idea of how it comes across to some listeners. At 3% trust among consistent conservatives, NPR has a serious problem that it appears to be in deep denial about.

        • Lencho

          I said ‘most’ not ‘all’

          • Sanpete

            I understand. You didn’t state the corresponding positive point, which is an important one.

          • Lencho

            True. I guess I have always been more focused on less legitimate and ill-informed criticism here.

        • NC_Boy

          At bottom, all they would really need to do is think of their listeners/readers as “customers”.

          • Sanpete

            Yes, there’s something to that. Maybe there’s too much Ernestine among some at NPR. (If you remember the Lily Tomlin routine, part of which was to make clear to cistomers that they were at the mercy of the phone company.)

          • NC_Boy

            Oh, yes. The current version is Dilbert’s Mordac, the IT Preventer.

        • Adam Ragusea

          We’ve discussed this before, but I think that 3% figure is an indication that consistent conservatives have a problem that they appear to be in deep denial about, more so than the other way around (though the other way around is probably also true).

          • Sanpete

            No doubt every strong ideological view inclines people to certain forms of denial. But that’s a shocking figure even if a lot of denial is factored in, and one NPR needs to take seriously. It’s easy for conservatives to tell over time that NPR isn’t representing them the way it does liberals. (There’s a large gap between the trust figures for more moderate conservatives and moderate liberals too.)

          • Paul Cook

            Adam- As to the dismissal of views of consistent conservatives, here is what the Ombudsman at the NYTimes said about alleged bias at the Times;
            “this perception by many readers strikes me as poison. A paper whose journalism appeals to only half the country has a dangerously severed public mission.”

          • TomKaz

            “consistent conservatives have a problem that they appear to be in deep denial about”

            Deep denial about what?

            It seems to me NPR is in deep denial about their political bias. Just this morning on Morning Edition, David Greene asked a Republican member of Congress from Louisiana if asking for Federal disaster aid creates a “credibility problem”, because Republicans have been ‘very wary of federal spending during times of natural disaster.’ He goes on to mention Hurricane Sandy, but neglects to mention that Republicans didn’t oppose Federal disaster aid (they supported a bill that funded $24 billion in aid!), but opposed a whopping, pork-laden $60 Billion package with no off-sets – a bill that included spending on items that had nothing to do with disaster relief.

            http://www.npr.org/2016/08/23/491024804/flooding-in-louisiana-has-put-a-lot-of-rep-garret-grave-s-district-under-water

            The narrative that Greene was promoting is the same narrative Democrats promote – Republicans are mean-spirited hypocrites that only support Federal disaster aid when it benefits their state/district, but oppose disaster aid when it doesn’t. The narrative is downright dishonest, but NPR is more than happy to promote it.

        • Lencho

          I was talking about the ill-informed and Trollish type mostly, and of course those who simply love to hate NPR>

    • Curious Fella – NPR Refugee

      I must politely disagree. NPR has no obligation to supervise broken children on the internet.

      8 years is a good run, but things change.
      I saw it happen to bitnet listserv lists, Usenet News Groups, BBSs galore, all before there was an internet. Things change, then they change again.

      You can continue to follow Sanpete’s posts. If he allows it.

      • Sanpete

        “NPR has no obligation to supervise broken children on the internet.”

        I imagine everyone agrees with that, so it’s hard to tell what you’re trying to disagree with. The remark does suggest a lack of respect for others who, like you, were posting comments at NPR.

        • Curious Fella – NPR Refugee

          Yes, I do not equally respect all of the people who post to NPR. Trolls, in particular, appear to get less of my respect.

          • Sanpete

            Naturally. But very few who post at NPR are trolls, people trying to disrupt discussion or merely provoke.

          • Brad Deltan

            I don’t know what NPR site you’ve been reading, but virtually every single NPR article is completely overrun with right-wing trolls.

            Granted, probably a lot of them are paid political operatives posting the same right-wing hate speech multiple times under multiple accounts. But the end effect – crowding out any real discussion – is the same.

          • Sanpete

            I doubt any of the longtime posters is a paid operative. Almost all are trying to make a point. not disrupt. Even the posters who spam continually with irrelevant cut-and-paste, e.g. Phil Jones and Zaba Newsjunkie, are sincere.

            Most of the posters with the most comments are liberals, actually.

          • NC_Boy

            If it makes him feel better to think that, at this point what’s the harm? :)

            NC Boy = Tom Hanks

          • Lencho

            Paid operative? Gawd! I wish! ;0)

          • Lencho

            To be fair, there were many Left Wing Trolls too.

          • Lencho

            I disagree. There were more than a few.

          • Curious Fella – NPR Refugee

            The funniest were the Russians during the Ukrainian thing. Just not trying that hard.

          • Curious Fella – NPR Refugee

            How many trolls does it take to destroy a discussion?

            What percentage of all comments come from that tiny minority?

          • Sanpete

            It doesn’t take many for some people, certainly. (People have different tolerances for distractions.) I suspect we have different ideas about who’s a troll and who isn’t, but I’d say only a small portion of posts, under 2%, comes from true trolls. There’s another class of poster that’s also disruptive, though, and it’s not unsual for the comments of one or more stories a day to be overrun by them.

            Even so, most discussions go along alright.

      • drapeblind

        I guess this brings up the question of diversity for a federal program. Does NPR have the choice to decide who its main constituency is, or in different framed terms from a media industry, who their niche audience is? Because the internet trolls are everywhere, but somehow according to this model, their anti-contributions are more substantial than the 30 to 50% (?) of legitimate users and what they might have to say. Or do I have this wrong? And are there just almost no legitimate users of NPR’s message boards? A very interesting discussion, one that speaks to the historical principles of noncommercial media in the US.

    • Sanpete

      Thanks, Mark. I haven’t actually heard the show due to computer issues, but I’m glad to see something positive!

      There are certainly some at NPR who don’t deal well with criticism or even other views. Journalists have egos, just like the rest of us. Gene Demby made it clear over the years that he has a particularly hard time with that, and has been openly celebrating the demise of public comments, implying a degree of scorn. He’s probably not the only who feels that way. No doubt many at NPR also find it hard to see the value in criticism from those with less knowledge of journalism, as you suggest. The zoo that the comment section can be also makes it difficult.

      That doesn’t excuse the lack of respect NPR has shown for comments, no more than the lack of expertise and sometimes lack of good judgment and manners among voters justifies contempt for them by our leaders in democracy. Like those who represent voters in government, NPR has an obligation to seek out and respect what’s respectable in its audience, even if it’s sometimes difficult. I think they could learn some valuable lessons from the comments in the process.

      One way they could have done that, but only rarely did, is by engaging, as you say. (Demby did, but badly.) They used to read public comments on-air weekly, still a good idea.

      I’ll add that the NPR Ombudsman has a special obligation in this regard, but she hasn’t fulfilled it in regard to public comments. Her first act as Ombudsman was to close, without any input from its users, the open forum that allowed for comments on any topic that might be of import to the duties of the Ombudsman. She only posted a very few times, early on, in the comments to her own articles. She showed little evidence of having read the comments, preferring to refer to feedback received privately or on social media. And in regard to the decision to do away with comments at NPR, she appears not to have attempted to represent those who comment, but only those who don’t like the comments. A bad example, not good for NPR or its audience.

    • Adam Ragusea

      Oh, I’m certainly not the only reporter who has ever filed to NPR who engaged in the comments on my own stories. I suppose I just made a habit of it to an extent that was unusual.

  • Brad Deltan

    Comments mean nothing. Engagement means everything. The media landscape of 2016 demands engagement levels orders of magnitude greater than the pre-internet world (before 2005-ish).

    The problem is not that NPR (or member stations) are getting rid of comments. The problem is that too many (most?) public radio outlets are still stuck in a circa-1999 mindset of engagement. They’ve been “hiding” behind comments as a cheap and easy way to achieve “engagement”. Well, when you do cheap and easy, you get what you pay for.

    I’d bet solid money that a station that does some measure of highly-organized, open-to-the-public live event at least every two weeks could have no comments at all…and still have ten times the engagement with their local community. The events don’t even need to be free (although it’d probably help if some of them are).

    The problem, of course, is that events cost a lot. Often in money, always in man-hours. They’re always a risk of having poor ROI.

  • NC_Boy

    I was disappointed that Mr. Ragusea is apparently another public radio figure who seems to have no understanding of the important following that NPR comments have (had) among those who don’t choose to comment themselves. Elephant in the room, Adam.

    Also posted under the NPR Ombudsman’s post on this topic under my real name, Tom Hanks.

    • Sanpete

      Yeah, I don’t know what Adam said, but no doubt many more read comments than comment. I know that I frequently check comments at all sorts of websites with stories that involve some point I wonder about. I often get additional perspective I couldn’t have received from the article itself.

      NPR, its Ombudsman and many others seem to think the value of open, on-site comments depends on what portion of the audience comments. It doesn’t. If any substantial portion of the audience did comment, it would be an unmanageable flood of commentary, of course.

      The value lies in allowing anyone who cares enough to provide feedback where others can see it, unfiltered by NPR. It allows those who care to compare notes and learn from each other. It isn’t representative of the whole audience, but it’s still significant feedback, representative of many more than comment.

    • Adam Ragusea

      I may not have made that point directly, but the whole big argument I made about the importance of adjacency (audience feedback being presented on the same page as the content so that other people can read it) makes your argument implicitly. Two other things to keep in mind, though: 1) A comment section is not the only way to achieve adjacency, and NPR has said they are exploring other ways (i.e. systems for easily embedding Twitter/FB comments into or near the story); 2) While the percentage of site visitors who leave comments is not directly equivalent to the percentage of visitors who read or are otherwise served by the comments, I do imagine there is a proportional relationship between those two factors, and when the former is low, the latter is also low.

      • NC_Boy

        Good point about your coverage of the importance of adjacency, and thanks for responding.

        1) You wrote, “NPR has said they are exploring other ways (i.e. systems for easily embedding Twitter/FB comments into or near the story)”

        As we all know, when functions are considered necessary by an entity, revisions and upgrades are released in such a way that the function isn’t suspended (or at least a timetable is provided). The wording used makes me think that the only thing which would stimulate work on such a project would be a significant reduction in online activity.

        2) You wrote, “I do imagine there is a proportional relationship between those two factors [commenters and readers of comments], and when the former is low, the latter is also low.”

        This would have been SO easy for NPR to check! What percent of visitors click on the comments? We weren’t given this information, and in fact were led to believe that the only important issue in the decision was the actual number of people commenting.

  • Lencho

    Mr. Ragusea, for the record:
    I rarely criticized NPR. I’ve have spent more of my time over the last 8 or 9 years defending it.

    • Adam Ragusea

      Noted, sorry for lumping you in with the critics.

      • Lencho

        No, problem. Thanks for laughing at my ‘back to work’ joke. ;0)

        • Lencho

          Loved your description of your first encounter with our little community. I found myself in a similar state more than I care to admit.

  • Paul Cook

    I’ll spend more time here now that NPR is banning comments.

    • Adam Ragusea

      I’m sure the good people at Current will appreciate your traffic!

      • Lencho

        It’s clear you don’t know Mr. Cook. I suspect you will tire of quickly.

        • Adam Ragusea

          I said they’ll appreciate the traffic, I didn’t say anything about the comments!

        • Sanpete

          Unfair! He’s as reasonable as most. (Not that this is a high standard.)

          • Lencho

            I disagree, but I’ll remove it and let him make his own judgment.

          • Renegade_Skeptic

            Oh. There you are, Lencho!
            Are you aware of the new
            awkwardarguments
            channel?

          • Lencho

            No.

          • Lencho

            Yes! Thank you!

  • Brad Deltan

    I don’t know that Time Magazine is the vanguard of anything these days, but it’s probably worth noting that they devoted a cover article to their latest issue explicitly about how internet trolls are (already have?) devolved the entire social media/commenting system into a cesspool of hate. And frankly, while their research leaves a lot to be desired, I’d opine that they’re not wrong.

    http://time.com/4457110/internet-trolls/

    I see a lot of people complaining…even here on this thread…that the problem with getting rid of comments is that it means NPR is not engaging with its audience and/or the public. BULLCRAP. Comments are a lousy method of engagement with an audience. Always have been. But they’re cheap and easy to do, and until recently (e.g. last few years) you could kinda-sorta overlook all the bad parts about them. No longer. There are far better ways for NPR to engage with the public and with their audience than comments.

    Now, if you said that NPR is getting rid of comments AND isn’t stepping up their engagement game elsewhere to compensate? THAT I would agree with.

    • Sanpete

      NPR, more than most organizations because of its special ties to the public, should engage the public, as you say. But public comments aren’t only a way to engage the public. They’re a form of accountability to the public, where the public can leave feedback for all to see. They should be with the content, so people can easily find them.

      • NC_Boy

        As a small example, I’m pretty sure that a very few of us who commented on typos and grammar errors, even in online headlines, “forced” NPR to give this area more attention. This only seemed to occur after we started going beyond noting them and started being snarky – which means that contact reports would have been completely ineffective.

        • Sanpete

          It certainly makes sense that public criticism would sometimes be more effective than private.

          • Brad Deltan

            It makes sense but it’s not true. NPR listens a lot more to screaming member stations than it does to any web comments. A *whole* lot more. And yes, there were a lot of people at member stations screaming about the typos…that just wasn’t widely-known outside of the network.

            Remember, NPR’s ability to react to public commentary is highly warped by decades of nonstop right-wing and Republican efforts to de-fund, de-legitimize and generally make NPR’s life a living hell.

          • Sanpete

            Your explanation about the effectiveness of public criticism from the public doesn’t conflict with my point. No doubt criticism from member stations is more effective, but for the public, voicing their criticism publicly is still more likely to have an effect than voicing it privately in at least some cases, for example where something NPR can be shamed about is involved.

      • Brad Deltan

        This is more “playing devil’s advocate” than anything else, but I wouldn’t agree with that. I can see why they’d SEEM like a means of accountability. But if NPR knows that the vast majority of comments are coming from a disproportionately small crowd, then they’re inherently going to discount the import of any meaning in the comments. Ergo, it doesn’t work as a means of accountability.

        Plus, as I mentioned earlier, I see an AWFUL lot of right-wing hate in the comments. It’s impossible for anyone at NPR reviewing the comments to truly “filter” that so it doesn’t color their perception of the rest of the comments…regardless of how valid they may or may not be. That’s just human nature. You can’t smell a rose in a dumpster full of horse manure. :)

        FWIW, I also take issue with the assertion that NPR has any special obligation to engage the public moreso than any nonprofit. But that’s a completely different argument for another day. ;)

        • Sanpete

          Public accountability isn’t only a matter of NPR acting on public feedback, but on it being publicly checked and criticized. NPR may discount complaints about its bias, for example, but the ability of all interested to gather at a problematic story to discuss and read feedback about perceived bias is still important in shaping public views and NPR’s reputation. That does matter.

          Liberals typically see the comments as full of right-wing hate, and conservatives see them as full of left-wing hate. There’s plenty of both. Some can see beyond that, some can’t. NPR should make the effort.

          NPR has created its own special obligation to the public by its mission to represent the public in a special way.

          • Adam Ragusea

            You guys know I’m very sympathetic to the whole “comments = public accountability” argument, I made it several times in this episode. But I also think Brad is right in saying that the practical effect of comments is very different. As we discussed in the show, there’s research indicating that when people read a story that has been published by a reputable news organization and that has gone through at least one layer of professional editing, they tend to weigh it equally against a comment from an anonymous user with no reputation and no known editorial process. Comments, in effect, make people doubtful about facts. I really do think that’s dangerous. I would be willing to accept that danger as a necessary evil if comments were the only way for the public to hold news organizations accountable, but they’re not.

          • Sanpete

            Lack of trust in the media, which is shockingly prevalent in a general way, is likely a chief cause of what you describe. Not allowing comments probably only makes that worse, though.

            It seems to me the best counter to the problem is more comments. If an uninformed comment takes issue with a story illegitimately, someone should point that out in a response, with appropriate evidence. I’ve done my share of that (sometimes a mere exclamation seems sufficient), and no doubt you have too. I’ve spent a lot of time in comments arguing for the general reliability of the mainstream media. That reaches some people in a way the media itself probably can’t, though it’s admittedly more a matter of planting seeds than seeing minds change.

          • Brad Deltan

            Sanpete – Adam just explained that the *exact opposite* is true. When you have a professionally-reported, professionally-edited story…put next to a shot-from-the-hip comment with zero research behind it…people DO NOT discount the comment appropriately; they treat the two as being far more equal than they should be because it’s all coming from ONE outlet: the website being read.

            This is basic human psychology, and making the noise louder does not make the signal any better. Having more comments just makes the problem worse. And thus leads to decreased trust because when the comments and the article don’t align…as frequently happens…one of them must be “not true”. Over time, a constant sense of “something is not true on this outlet” becomes overwhelming, and you get the lack of trust in the outlet. There’s reams of psychology/neurobiology research on this concept. I highly encourage you to take a look because a lot of it is really fascinating stuff, and it explains a lot about why humans “act so dumb” all the time. :)

            It’s a very similar problem of psychology in that people tend to believe information from multiple sources. We are all biochemically wired to do that. But it’s a fantastically harmless biological instinct in the world of the web, where it’s easy for ONE source to be reported over thousands of outlets.

          • Sanpete

            The exact opposite of what?

            What evidence do you have that having more comments makes the problem worse than having only one? Many people interpret the lack of a way to post comments as a sign that a source doesn’t want criticism, can’t deal with other views, etc. Those perceptions reduce trust.

          • Brad Deltan

            In a word? Reddit.

          • Sanpete

            If you mean there can be too many comments, or too messy, that’s true. But that doesn’t imply having no comments is a better response to the issue Adam raised than having comments that support a story that’s being attacked.

  • drapeblind

    I’m personally less interested in if they keep the comments running, then that they archive what’s been said. Otherwise what we’re looking at here is the erasure of literally tens of thousands of hours of community engagement online due to a subsection of admittedly regressive users. But the larger regressive act would be to eliminate this historical labor, the good and the bad, from memory.

    • Adam Ragusea

      That was addressed in NPR’s announcement (and in this episode). The old comments will disappear from NPR.org, because they don’t actually live on NPR.org; they live on Disqus, which I suppose will continue to host them.

      • Sanpete

        But that doesn’t settle whether anyone will preserve them in any usable form. Disqus will have them under each user’s profile, not a very useful arrangement, especially after Disqus disappears itself. No doubt historians and archivists have been dealing with this kind of issue for years, but I don’t know if there are any plans to address it in this case.

        • drapeblind

          Yeah exactly, or if they’ll be searchable or archivable in the future. Adam’s point is well taken though.

        • Adam Ragusea

          Yeah, I absolutely share that concern, but I reckon NPR is between a rock and hard place on this one. I don’t know what their account with Disqus was like, but I imagine they would have to pay Disqus in perpetuity to continue hosting the archived comments at NPR.org — probably not the highest use of that money. Depending on NPR’s copyright agreement with Disqus, maybe they could run a script that would pull the comments out and reproduce them somehow, but that raises the core question they’re wrestling with here: Is it really NPR’s function to publish and preserve, in perpetuity, information that is totally unvetted, to which no editorial judgment has been applied? That’s probably a good job for an archivist or a librarian somewhere, but not a good job for a news organization.

          • drapeblind

            This one is an easy one for me, actually. If not a federal educational institution, then who? Yes it’s their responsibility to archive the culture they’ve been tasked with stewarding.

          • Adam Ragusea

            NPR isn’t a federal educational institution.

          • drapeblind

            Yet, the PBA67 was the 5-renewal extension of the Educational Television Facilities Act of 1962, made permanent. Education is at the core of the founding principles and first mandate of the network.

          • Adam Ragusea

            One of the big, explicit objectives of the PBA was to broaden the mandate beyond education. Also, you’re conflating the CPB with the institutions that it funds. NPR, indirectly, gets some federal money. That doesn’t make it a federal institution, anymore than Lockheed Martin is a federal institution because it wins Pentagon contracts.

          • drapeblind

            I think this is especially on point for the current incarnation of NPR, and I wonder if this logistical change isn’t indicative of a major sociological shift in the perceived internal principles and goals of NPR, covered nicely on a few podcasts by……Adam Ragusea.

          • Adam Ragusea

            hah, *bows*

          • NC_Boy

            Lockheed Martin wins a contract to produce a specific product and is monitored minute-by-minute to make sure that every part, assembly, system, and finished product meets very tight, government-established specifications.

            I reaaaaly don’t think you want to compare Lockheed Martin to CPB!

          • Adam Ragusea

            I’m not comparing CPB to Lockheed, I’m comparing CPB to the Pentagon and NPR to Lockheed. And I don’t do PR for NPR — I don’t care if the comparison is unfavorable. The organizational analogy stands.

          • NC_Boy

            CPB is a private entity that receives much of its funding from “the government”. So is Lockheed Martin.

            CPB works with sub-contractors such as NPR to fulfill its mission. So does Lockheed Martin.

            Anyway, my point relates to the extreme control that is exerted by “the government” in the execution of military contracts. I don’t think you want to imply”the government” has, or should have, a level of control over CPB and it’s sub-contractors which would make Radio Moscow 1970 proud.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Military_Standard

          • Sanpete

            It would be appropriate for the NPR Ombudsman to concern herself with it, I think. The indications have been that she doesn’t like the comments, but she might still see the value in preserving them on behalf of listeners (and others).

          • drapeblind

            This would be the logical choice, and very much in line with the tradition of preservation of noncommercial media materials going back to the 1930s.

  • TomKaz

    Let me get this straight, there’s a “mono-culture” of NPR commenters, but there isn’t a mono-culture of NPR employees?

    • Sanpete

      Who said that, Tom? (I’m unable to hear the podcast at the moment.)

      • TomKaz

        Kate or Michelle. I didn’t catch which one.

        • Sanpete

          An odd claim, at least with regard to ideology. There’s quite a spread of ideology in the comments.

          • Adam Ragusea

            No one said anything about ideology. Culture has many other aspects.

          • Sanpete

            Indeed. Hard to imagine in what aspects the commenters form a monoculture, but I’m sure it was explained in the podcast.

          • Adam Ragusea

            let me know if there’s some other way i could get it to you

    • Adam Ragusea

      No one said there isn’t a mono-culture of NPR employees. One would expect there to be a cultural unity between a group of people sharing the same profession and working at the same place.

      • TomKaz

        Clever reply Adam. And no one from NPR has said there is a mono-culture at NPR.

        The mono-culture at NPR is much more than a group of people sharing the same profession and working at the same place. Bob Garfield hit the nail on the head several years ago when he said “you and I both know that if you were to somehow poll the political orientation of everybody in the NPR news organization and at all of the member stations, you would find an overwhelmingly progressive, liberal crowd, not uniformly, but overwhelmingly.”

        Nobody at NPR will dare admit this.

        NPR claims to value staff “diversity”, and over the years the ombudsman’s blog has reported on the racial, ethnic and gender composition of it’s employees. We’re to believe racial, ethnic, and gender diversity somehow translates into a better, more diverse news product, but the social and political views of NPR employees have no bearing on news product.

        NPR won’t dare investigate the lack of ideological diversity in their staff, let alone admit it impacts their work product.

        • Brad Deltan

          If there’s one thing I’ve learned after twenty years of following the media, it’s that there’s no such thing as a “liberal” culture. By its very definition, “liberalism” is about being inclusive of many different cultures. In fact, that’s part of the problem. It’s often far too tolerant of cultures that are highly self-destructive…witness Pacifica Radio (or the recently-deceased KUSP).

          I prefer to think of it this way: conservatism is a fairly-well-defined culture hewing to a fairly-specific list of criteria. These criteria can and do change over time, but they’re usually fairly specific. If you believe in X, Y and Z, then you’re a conservative. (for better or for worse)

          Liberalism is looking at conservatism and saying “I’m whatever they’re not.” :-P As you might imagine, that covers a lot of ground. So you end up with “liberals” who have mighty different outlooks on life, politics, society, etc.

          I find it highly amusing that conservatives look across NPR and insist there is a monoculture at NPR just because most of the employees skew liberal in their politics. One week of seeing all the infighting, backbiting and screaming matches (well, maybe more “raised voices matches”) that happen across the various subsets of the institution would fix that perception in a hurry. It’s not monolithic at all.

          • Sanpete

            Liberal ideology is as well defined as conservative ideology. Both include quite an array of variation.

            There’s just as much fighting among conservatives as among liberals, of course, as this election cycle has vividly illustrated.

          • Brad Deltan

            Well that’s a point I have to concede. :) Still…it feels like what it means to be a conservative is more clearly defined, and that liberals tend to be reactive to that. Maybe it’s just a vague sense…possibly incorrect…based on how there’s a clearly defined conservative media (Fox News, The Blaze, Breitbart, etc) but not really any equivalent on the liberal side? (I don’t think MSNBC really counts…Pacifica Radio, maybe)

          • Sanpete

            Psychologically, liberals tend to be more open to new things, and see that as a good thing, so that no doubt affects how they think of themselves and their ideas generally. But in practice, liberal ideology is tied up with particular views of economics and government that only change slowly, if at all.

            Sure, MSNBC counts. But liberals tend to be more defined with online media, HuffPo, Salon, etc.

          • TomKaz

            “Psychologically, liberals tend to be more open to new things, and see that as a good thing”

            LOL. Read this.

            “Researchers have fixed a number of papers after mistakenly reporting that people who hold conservative political beliefs are more likely to exhibit traits associated with psychoticism, such as authoritarianism and tough-mindedness.

            “As one of the notices specifies, now it appears that liberal political beliefs are linked with psychoticism. That paper also swapped ideologies when reporting on people higher in neuroticism and social desirability (falsely claiming that you have socially desirable qualities); the original paper said those traits are linked with liberal beliefs, but they are more common among people with conservative values.”

            http://retractionwatch.com/2016/06/07/conservative-political-beliefs-not-linked-to-psychotic-traits/

          • Sanpete

            Interesting, in a peculiar way, but how does it relate to what you quoted from me?

          • TomKaz

            Most Liberals are not “liberal” – they’re intolerant of views that conflict with their own. Just take a look a who gets invited/dis-invited to speak at college campuses.

            A few liberals have noticed:

            The Liberal Blind Spot
            http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/29/opinion/sunday/the-liberal-blind-spot.html?_r=0

            The Silencing: How the Left is Killing Free Speech
            https://www.amazon.com/Silencing-Left-Killing-Free-Speech/dp/1621573702/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1471965061&sr=1-1&keywords=The+Silencing%3A+How+the+Left+is+Killing+Free+Speech

          • Brad Deltan

            Having plenty of experience with college campuses, I can assure you they are not liberal in the slightest. They are fantastically conservative *business* institutions, and they’re in the business of staying in business…not actually educating anyone. They very specifically want students who get riled up about stupid crap because it makes a fine distraction from the reality that these kids are paying $60,000/yr (and climbing, fast!) to basically receive zero education. “Academically Adrift” was a long-overdue wakeup call on that front.

          • TomKaz

            I haven’t read the book (never heard of it), but I doubt Academically Adrift woke up anyone who could make a difference. Name all the politicians and media figures who are beating the drum on the need to make changes based on their findings?

            Even if we gave colleges the benefit of the doubt, and assumed most of them are providing a fine education, it’s shocking to see how many students pursue fields of study (and spend/borrow thousands) for degrees that have very poor job/income prospects. Worse, taxpayers are footing the bill for these dead-end degrees through taxes, grants, and other subsidies.

            According to Career Builder, 51 percent of college grads employed in 2014 are in jobs that don’t require a college degree.

            The MSM is complicit in creating the myth that a college degree translates into higher incomes, rarely adding the caveat that they’re using average incomes from graduates in all fields of study.

  • NC_Boy

    Kate Myers was the gold standard for participation by Ombudsman Staff with the community. It was a very sad day (for us) when she left. If they had given her this function with a mission to MAKE IT WORK, I think we would be in a very different situation today.

    NC Boy = Tom Hanks

    • Sanpete

      I don’t think she worked in the Ombudsman’s office, but in some ways she provided a better model for representing listeners than the Ombudsman did.

  • urbanviking

    Broadcasting has always been a one-way messaging system, more or less. So even with the magnificent interactivity of the web everywhere we turn, it’s back to the roots for public radio, for safety and security. Or the illusion of it anyway.

    • Brad Deltan

      Well that would be a true failure in my book. As I’ve mentioned, getting rid of website comments is an excellent first step…but ONLY if they take subsequent steps of increasing public engagement through other, more productive means.

    • Adam Ragusea

      I really don’t think that’s fair. Here’s what I think the big question is: What is a professional media organization for, especially in the 21st century? Is it to amplify the vox populi? I don’t think so. The vox populi is amplifying itself quite nicely on the internet, thank you very much (or at least the older, technology-possessing male vox populi that dominate comment sections). The point of professional media is to present a curated view of the world. You are capable of looking at the world yourself, directly. If you like NPR, you go to NPR to view the world through their critical lens. Does NPR add value to the world by providing a space on their stories where anyone can say almost anything they want, regardless of veracity or relevance or appropriateness? Maybe, but I’m increasingly doubtful. People can say that stuff plenty of other places, it’s a free internet. NPR can definitely add value by being open to audience feedback and presenting a more selective, curated sampling of the most valuable stuff in a space adjacent to the content. I’m down with that, and I think NPR is too. But it will require major investments of time, it will require bravery to embrace critical comments, and it will require open-mindedness to embrace critical comments that might not seem legitimate or relevant to you at first blush. We’ll see how this plays out. As I said in the show, I have my own concerns, but I think this first step that NPR has taken is perfectly defensible, and does not necessarily represent a retreat from public scrutiny. It’s NPR stepping up and doing its job. NPR’s job is to enrich the public square, not BE the public square.

      • Sanpete

        “providing a space on their stories where anyone can say almost anything they want, regardless of veracity or relevance or appropriateness”

        That’s not the goal, but it’s one way to enable feedback that’s true or at least relevant and appropriate, along with the rest. NPR has tried various forms of curation of feedback, all unsatisfactory in some way or other. It’s hard to do well, and even if done well, it’s subject to severe distrust. Limits can be used, and better software like Reddit’s that allows digressions to be collapsed would also help.

        I don’t think it’s so defensible to take this step without a next step ready, and it appears there’s not even a plan for a next step yet.

        • Adam Ragusea

          Yeah, I don’t entirely disagree, though I reckon the specific timing of this move is probably practical in nature (budget issue? contract with disqus expiring?).

          There really are better things on the horizon. Do you know about the Coral Project? https://coralproject.net/about/

          It’s the thing I wrote about at the end of this old article: http://current.org/2014/10/eight-best-practices-for-journalists-who-reply-to-online-comments/

          • Sanpete

            Not familiar. The ideals sound good. I’m skeptical that we have anything close to the technical sophistication needed for adequate auto-moderation. The kinds of mechanisms we do have the technology for, that I’m aware of at least, are subject to being gamed, and to a kind of tyranny of the majority. But maybe better is closer than I realize.

            Nice writing at your old piece, by the way. Not all the way through it yet. If I find some fatal flaw that makes it all crumble I’ll be sure to leave a comment.

      • NC_Boy

        “The point of professional media is to present a curated view of the world. You are capable of looking at the world yourself, directly. If you like NPR, you go to NPR to view the world through their critical lens.”

        Any poor soul who read a lot of my posts found a repeated theme. NPR has a very commendable set of ethics guidelines that include “impartiality” and “fairness” as two key elements. This, and the 8-20% of funding that comes from the taxpayers (who knows the truth?), creates (or should create) special expectations from their listeners/readers.

        It’s not a matter of whether somebody “like[s] NPR”. It’s a matter of whether NPR delivers on it’s commitments, so that those who “like” it are getting fair and impartial news reporting and balanced analysis.

        The last 2, maybe 3 NPR Ombudsmen have followed up on many concerns about lack of diversity in NPR reporting and staffing, but they have 100% ignored even the possibility that lack of ideological diversity could be an issue. You addressed this issue early on in your podcast, but of course nothing ever came of your limited recommendations. I think the only explanation is that many of Pauline Kael’s family members work at NPR.

  • Mark Pugnar

    I love that the news that website comments are going away has provoked so many to comment on the website.

    • Adam Ragusea

      Indeed. Again, I think I support NPR’s decision, but it’s def sad to be watching the comments on the ombuds post right now. A lot of smart stuff being said.

      • Sanpete

        Sad seems a better descriptor than delightful, which is what the Ombudsman’s assistant called it. She explained that she didn’t mean it sarcastically, but still . . . .

        • Adam Ragusea

          oh, don’t get on annie’s case.

          • Curious Fella – NPR Refugee

            Nice lady. Articulate. Impossible job.

  • Curious Fella – NPR Refugee

    Linda Wertheimer once quoted my internet persona on air. Letters section. : )

  • There were some stories on NPR I wanted to comment on but you cant argue with trolls. Having read some of the spew under the comments, I don’t blame NPR one bit. The haters will find another platform, there are plenty out there.

  • Guinness Ian

    I am not too disappointed that NPR removed commenting from the site. I AM disappointed with the manner in which this change has been executed. NPR had an opportunity with this decision to do something different…perhaps something that other media sites could emulate. Instead they link (dump) readers of a story to the greater NPR content stream, leaving the reader to slog through and find the post relating to the story that they just took their time to read.

    My hope was that NPR would use a method that more directly connected the reader of a story with the specific post(s) on social media where they can express their opinion and interact around the topic. While direct (standard) linking to social media post(s) would require editing post-publication, there are multiple methods currently available that would eliminate this step.

    Sadly, NPR has just followed behind other publications that have also chosen to shove readers out the door at the end of an article and do little to reduce the friction of engagement around that content.

  • Brad Deltan

    For what it’s worth, I think this article is an excellent example of why killing off comments and relying on Facebook is NOT a viable strategy if the goal is true listener (aka consumer) engagement. The echo chamber can easily be just as bad there.

    And don’t get me started on the vast ocean of hate and abuse that is Twitter.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/28/magazine/inside-facebooks-totally-insane-unintentionally-gigantic-hyperpartisan-political-media-machine.html?_r=0

  • We love NPR!!!
    From a listener in Chile.