Opinions

We’re discontinuing the comments on opinion articles. Here’s why.

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Starting this week, we’re discontinuing comments on ADN opinion articles. The reason: They’ve devolved into a place often dominated and defined by name-calling, partisan sniping, disinformation and bickering among a relatively small number of commenters. They continue to take a lot of time for our staff to moderate at the expense of other priorities, including producing fresh coverage for a much bigger audience.

This follows our decision in 2020 to disable comments on news articles, and on letters to the editor earlier this summer. A number of U.S. news sites have made similar decisions in recent years.

It’s not a decision we’re making lightly. For many years, we’ve had a space beneath online articles and commentaries where readers could make their voices heard. But too often, the tenor of those discussions has driven away other contributors to that space. We’ve used different commenting software through the years. Automated moderation can surely help, but it still consumes staff time — sometimes a lot — to review flagged comments, deal with reader complaints (”I’m being censored!”), to double-check automated systems. We’ve found that staff members being in the comment space, not only moderating but contributing, can help improve it. But for a small newsroom like ours, that time always comes at the expense of something else.

We know some readers will be disappointed or suspect partisan motives. Believe me, we’ve heard it all — that we set out every day to stifle right-leaning voices, that we’re stifling left-leaning voices, that we’re protecting this politician or that politician. Here’s the thing: When we moderate comments — and it’s almost always reviewing comments that were flagged by users or the software — we’re checking for incivility, for blatant disinformation and other clear violations of our user guidelines, not for partisan language or criticism. This is not to say all comments have been problematic. We deeply appreciate commenters who’ve followed the rules, some of whom have been in the space for many years, or offered feedback on how to improve the space.

I also know other readers will be happy with this decision. We hear from them, too. And I’m confident many won’t care or notice. The number of readers opening the comments (on a site with nearly 90 million page views last year) is relatively small.

This doesn’t mean that we’re not listening or that readers don’t have the opportunity to express their points of view. We publish hundreds of letters to the editor and opinion pieces each year. We invite you to join. We want, need and deeply value interaction with readers. Comments on our story pages have been replaced, on many articles, with a way for readers to suggest further coverage ideas, to flag errors or contextual problems, to give feedback on coverage. We read these and take them seriously. You can interact with us on social media. None of that changes.

In addition, reporters are easily contacted via email (at the bottom of most articles), and readers can always reach out to me, managing editor Vicky Ho and opinions editor Tom Hewitt. There’s a feedback form on our homepage. What we do is driven by a commitment to serve the community and our audiences. We’re not doing this for one side or another. We believe in facts and we believe in democracy — and the importance of facts in democracy at all levels. We’re not perfect. But spending as much time as we’ve been spending refereeing food fights in the comments isn’t helping produce the journalism Alaska deserves. It burns up time and burns out the people doing it.

We’re always looking for better ways to listen, to connect, to engage, to serve the community. We live here too, and we care about what matters to you.

As always, thanks for reading and thanks for subscribing.

David Hulen

David Hulen is editor of the ADN, He has been a reporter and editor at ADN for 35 years. As a reporter, he traveled extensively in Alaska. He was a writer on the Pulitzer Prize winning "People In Peril" series and was among the first reporters on scene of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. He was co-editor of the Pulitzer-winning "Lawless" series.

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