Farewell to comments: Why we are making a change

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This column was written by former News24 editor Andrew Trench on September 11, 2015, explaining News24’s decision to remove comments from all articles.

Andrew Trench

On Friday, September 11, 24.com will join international news leaders by implementing an important change in how we handle comments on our site.

We have decided to switch off comments on articles as a default from Friday and to implement a different approach to how we handle user contributions and engagement with our content on our platform.

Our decision to change our comments policy follows months of internal debate and discussion which has seen us consider all options practically available to us on how to wrangle the thousands of comments which are made on 24.com each day.

The end result of these debates is that we have decided that we wish to be known for the quality of our content rather than for our comments.

Our decision is part of the evolution of 24.com as South Africa’s leading digital news source.  

This year has seen a significant investment in original journalism on News24. We have recruited and deployed a team of journalists across South Africa to build the country’s first truly digital-first newsroom.

We have launched a national news service, the News24Wire, as a part of this investment.

At the same time, editors across our network have been working hard at honing their editorial strategies to ensure that we provide the best experience possible for our substantial daily audience.

As we have worked on this, the comments issue has loomed large. Each day the tone and substance of many of our comments appear increasingly at odds with the mission of editorial excellence which we have set for ourselves.

Many commentators insist on pushing the boundaries of free speech available to us in South Africa.

Comments tediously drift towards hate speech at worst and, at best, are often laced with prejudice.

Interesting and considered contributions are drowned out by a cacophony of insults from a minority of users.

This is not the experience we wish users to have in our home.

The internet is awash with social media platforms which allow unfettered free speech and increasingly are the more comfortable home of online conversations.

So come Friday we will join those like Reuters, CNN, Popular Science and others in switching off article-level comments as our default position.

So, does this mean that there is no place for user contributions on 24.com? No, not at all.

In the News24 environment we will invite considered user contributions to be submitted to our MyNews24 platform. Contributions will be evaluated by our editors and published if we feel that they are interesting and valuable to our user community.

Other sites in our network like Fin24, Sport24 and Channel24 , and the others, will provide other means for user contributions using email submissions or other channels. Our Afrikaans sister site, Netwerk24, is currently considering its comments policy.

While comments will be turned off as a default we will retain the editorial discretion to open article-level comments on material where we believe comments will add value. A great example of this is when News24 users mobilise to assist someone who is the subject of a story we have written or who thoughtfully engage with a provocative analysis or opinion piece. Comments in these cases will be subject to more intense scrutiny.

We hope this move, controversial as it will no doubt be, will improve the user experience on 24.com. We also hope those who are prepared to invest time and thought in their opinions will submit them though the channels we will provide and that these contributions will find a place alongside the quality content we will continue to publish.

- Andrew Trench was News24's Editor-in-Chief until February 2016. He is now digital editor for TMG.

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