The New Haven Independent’s move to disable commenting on its articles has sparked debate throughout the Elm City.
On Tuesday, Paul Bass ’82, editor of the New Haven Independent, a daily New Haven news website, posted an article on the site explaining that comments would no longer be featured alongside stories, citing a recent uptick in accusatory, factually incorrect and harsh comments that detracted from the public discourse. Independent readers and community members offered different opinions on whether the decision was warranted and what impact it may have on political discussions in the city.
“Until recently, the comments were the best part of our site — they were diverse, edgy, fun and passionate,” Bass said. “[Over the] last few months, they became a sewer despite our best efforts.”
Until Tuesday, the Independent’s nine-person staff screened each comment before it was posted, monitoring the posts for profanity or false accusations. But in recent months, Bass said though the comments he allowed to be posted technically fell within these guidelines, their spirit was nevertheless nasty, lending an antagonistic air to the conversation beneath each article. Bass added that an surge in the volume of comments began to strain staff resources.
Matthew DeRienzo, the Connecticut regional editor for the Journal Register Company, owner of the New Haven Register, said that the Register modeled its comment policy after that of the Independent this November — pre-screening comments rather than deleting inappropriate remarks after they were posted. DeRienzo said comments are indispensable to an online news source because they serve as the main tool for communication between journalists and community members.
“The community doesn’t know if you’ve received 50 phone calls when you’ve done something wrong, but they can know that you’ve received 50 comments,” DeRienzo said. “For you to do community journalism — or any journalism at all, really — and not allow readers to comment, to not provide feedback and question you, it is a transparency problem that hurts your credibility.”
The recent negativity in the Independent’s comments arose from several hot-button issues this fall, said Bass, including the contentious mayoral race, immigration and the East Haven raids. He said he did not know why the site had never encountered problems under its original comment policy.
Ben Crosby ’13, an occasional commenter on the Independent, said that the quality of comments has historically been high due to the site’s strict screening policy, paralleling the careful nature of the its reporting.
“I hope the hiatus is a temporary one,” Crosby said. “Comments do provide an entirely virtual republic of letters insofar as people can come together — people from all across town who wouldn’t normally enter these sorts of discussions.”
After receiving over 50 emails complaining about the change, the Independent’s staff is now deliberating over a new comment system, though Bass said he was not confident that comments would return.
Yale spokesman Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93 defended Bass’s decision to suspend comments on the Independent’s articles, saying that he trusted the editor to find a balance that would allow for both citizen participation and high-quality journalism.
“No one’s yet gotten this area figured out perfectly,” said Morand. “All we can hope is that the New Haven Independent makes it better, and that their new policy advances the conversation about engaged community journalism.”
The New Haven Independent is owned by the Online Journalism Project, a non-profit organization that specializes in local reporting across Connecticut.