Why Doesn’t ELi Post Comments?

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Monday, May 14, 2018, 8:02 am
Alice Dreger, Publisher of ELi

A reader and financial supporter of ELi wrote to us recently: “Wondering why there is not a feature to allow public to comment on articles.” This is a question we have gotten from other readers sometimes, so today we answer it here.

In a nutshell, taking comments at a responsible, public service, nonprofit website like ELi is an incredibly labor-intensive activity. It also requires a lot of judgment calls that necessarily veer into the subjective.

ELi’s Board of Directors has talked at various times about this issue and has concluded this is not an appropriate use of ELi’s website or resources. We would have to decide which opinions fit whatever policy we established, and such a policy would necessarily involve restriction of the speech of some commentators and not others. We’d have to be making complex judgment calls every day, and that would take an enormous amount of time.

We also know from the experience of watching places that take comments that, pretty quickly, a few commentators take over “comments” conversations, fights break out, and so on. Moderation of these problems would require significant use of our limited resources—and our mission isn’t to bring lots of relatively random opinions; it’s to bring nonprofit, nonpartisan news and information that matters to the people of East Lansing.

As it is, because we share material via Facebook, and because our audience is growing pretty rapidly, ELi Managing Editor Ann Nichols has to spend more and more time moderating comments there. She has to take a lot of care in terms of making sure we are not suppressing anyone’s opinions while at the same time trying not to allow things like foul language, personal attacks, and promulgation of false information as it attaches to our work.

If it were not the case that over 50% of our readership comes to us through Facebook, I would be inclined to argue to the rest of the Board of Directors for giving Facebook up, not because of the recent controversies about Facebook and data usage but because of the incredibly labor-intensive aspect of sending material out that way. But that is where a lot of our readers keep up on news, so we are stuck being there if we are going to serve the audience we are here to serve.

Readers can and do comment on ELi publications at Facebook, NextDoor, Public Response, Twitter, and also in places like communications to City Council. They also send us email and letters and they phone us. Sometimes those comments turn into story leads and sources, so that is very helpful, but regardless, Ann is actively monitoring the feedback people are sending and putting out there to keep an eye on whether we are meeting high journalistic standards and our public service mission.

It may seem strange that a news site doesn’t post comments. But keep in mind that we are not a typical news site. We are explicitly nonprofit, nonpartisan, citizen-reported, and community-focused.

For comparison purposes, it might be worth thinking about why the City of East Lansing doesn’t allow comments at the City’s website on things like the City’s press releases, agendas, minutes, etc. (Reminder: we are completely independent of the City.) Doing so would definitely get people more engaged with the City’s materials and activities. But it would also result in City staff having to spend enormous amounts of time moderating and would lead to having to make subjective calls about what should be posted and what should not be.

Regular readers come to ELi’s site expecting high quality in everything they encounter. They expect transparency, accountability, factual accuracy, clarity, nonpartisanship, and depth. We try hard to make sure everything we publish at our website meets those standards.

Thanks to everyone who has shared feedback on what we’re doing. As we always say, this is Your ELi – this organization is here to serve this community – so we appreciate you staying engaged with us.


Related links:

Contribute to ELi as a reporter or donor

Read an interview with ELi’s Managing Editor at the national Poynter Institute’s “Local Edition”

Read about ELi’s “news militia” as featured in the national Lenfest Institute’s newsletter

Listen to WKAR’s feature on ELi’s work


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