Al.com became the latest media company to do away with reader comments on its website last week, citing the time and energy required to police comments, while also touting a new “more constructive” space for reader engagement.
The state’s largest website has been known for a rather rowdy comments section for some time now, particularly when it comes to college football. In announcing the changes, al.com acknowledged the roll reader comments have played in getting the website off the ground.
“When AL.com launched as Alabama Live, the content was largely built around reader conversations with some news, sports and entertainment sprinkled in,” the company’s announcement read. “Over time, we have evolved into a real-time digital news organization. Reader conversations shifted from forums to comments, and more recently to social media and even events where we gather with you for thoughtful give and take.”
One of the things they also acknowledged is that reader comments primarily came from a rather small group of people who generated a tremendous amount of conversation.
“It’s important to note that very few people contribute the vast majority of comments on the site. Most readers never comment or read the comments. In fact, across our company’s websites, which serve 50 million unique visitors in an average month, just 2,340 people produce more than half of the comments. A tiny fraction of AL.com’s 12 million monthly visitors ever leave a comment,” the statement read.
This move appears to be one that’s being implemented across Advance Publications’ various websites. Cleveland.com, the Plain-Dealer’s website, also announced last week it was canceling reader comments. It’s a decision many news outlets have made over the past decade as “trolling” has become more common and the commentary has gotten more vitriolic.
Anonymous comment platforms such as al.com also offer opportunities for political operatives to attempt to push their agendas through the use of a multitude of screen names, often pushing buttons and starting online fights.
“Some of these conversations are uncivil, even downright nasty. Moderating the comments for off-topic posts or personal attacks takes time and resources that are better spent producing independent local news,” the statement said.
Al.com said it will continue to allow access to reporters’ email by clicking their byline, which is something many news outlets have also stopped doing. The company is also urging readers to go to Facebook pages tailored to Alabama and Auburn sports.
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