Early Friday morning, I visited a story on qctimes.com about a man who was stabbed and beaten in LeClaire Park the night before. The victim was rushed to the hospital but succumbed to his wounds. It was in a public park, right after sunset. The park was full of people playing Pokemon Go and enjoying the riverfront.
At the end of every story, we provide a place for comments. It’s supposed to be a forum where people can debate the issues presented in a story or editorial, where they can connect with each other or grieve together. Or, in the case of a violent crime like the one in LeClaire Park, the space could be used to check in with concerns about public safety.
Instead, here’s what happened.
Below the LeClaire Park story was a growing string of comments – a veiled racist remark about Democratic voters, a derogatory comment about police, then something about Hillary Clinton taking our guns away.
There were mixed-race jokes posted on a story about a burglary, and on a story about a police standoff in Davenport there was a string of comments about what an idiot President Obama is with questions about his citizenship.
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I’ve been watching this for years at newspapers across the country. It's not unique to the Quad-City Times, though the prejudices vary by region. Every once in a while, I see a lively, on-topic debate. In a sea of ridiculousness, hate speech and online bullying, I occasionally read thoughtful perspectives I hadn’t considered. Unfortunately, that isn’t the norm and it’s been a very long time since I believed in the dream media companies once had about providing a town square for the community to meet and use our journalism as a launching pad to connect, debate and bring about change.
I’m sick of it. I’m shutting off the online comments on qctimes.com.
This is not a rash decision, nor one made lightly. I’ve been debating this for months. I’ve floated it to people I respect in the Quad-Cities -- longtime readers and subscribers, people who enjoy news, debate and dialogue. We’ve talked about it internally again and again, weighing the pros and cons. This move has the full support of Publisher Deb Anselm, who moved here from Northwest Indiana where the newspaper shut off online comments long ago in an effort toward civil discourse.
Today, if you want to comment on an article, you won’t be able to post anonymously on our website. You’ll need to use one of the other forums we provide. We have a robust and thoughtful Letters to the Editor section in print and online. Just email your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org. We also love to see our readers on Facebook, sharing and commenting on articles. Every reporter, editor and photographer in this newsroom is on Twitter, if you’d like to interact with us that way. There’s a list of everyone’s Twitter account online at qctimes.com/ontwitter. Follow us.
Online commenting has also been used as a way to point out possible errors in stories and concerns about our judgment. Please continue to share those. Email them to me at email@example.com.
I’m not breaking any ground here. By shutting off online comments, the Quad-City Times joins a long line of media companies doing the same. This past October, Wired magazine published an article, “A Brief History of the End of the Comments.” The first domino, they wrote, was probably Popular Science magazine in 2014, followed by CNN and the Chicago Sun-Times that same year, citing concerns over “quality.” National Public Radio is ending comments later this month.
It takes courage to share an opinion when your name is attached. Knowing that, it’s my hope that disabling comments on qctimes.com will contribute to a civil equilibrium, a return to thoughtful discourse and elevate the discussion around the important issues we are facing in the Quad-Cities and as a nation.