August 17, 2016 Last Updated 11:58 am

NPR to end reader comments, finding that their comment system is ‘serving a very, very small slice of its overall audience’

Like other media outlets that have made a similar decision, NPR says their audience will now need to rely on social media like Twitter and Facebook to continue to engage with their editors and on-air professionals

National Public Radio will become the latest media entity to shutter its reader comment threads. The reason, NPR ombudman Elizabeth Jensen said, was that research had found that commenters represent a small portion of the media entity’s total audience.

Of nearly 33 million unique users last month, Jensen reported, there were just over 19K commenters, representing use 0.06 percent of users.

When NPR analyzed the number of people who left at least one comment in both June and July, the numbers showed an even more interesting pattern: Just 4,300 users posted about 145 comments apiece, or 67 percent of all comments for the two months. More than half of all comments in May, June and July combined came from a mere 2,600 users. The conclusion: NPR’s commenting system — which gets more expensive the more comments that are posted, and in some months has cost NPR twice what was budgeted — is serving a very, very small slice of its overall audience.

Like some other media brands, NPR will be looking for their audience to engage with them through social media such as Twitter and Facebook.

“We’ve reached the point where we’ve realized that there are other, better ways to achieve the same kind of community discussion around the issues we raise in our journalism,” said Scott Montgomery, managing editor for digital news.


NPR is finding what other media brands have found, that their comment threads have become gathering places for commenters that do not reflect the overall audience. In other words, places where hate speech is common, and at the very least, were comment spammers find a place to do whatever spammers like to do.

TNM receives about 1 comment spam for every legitimate reader comment. Also, most of those come from just a couple of countries – Russia, China and India.

Jensen quotes several readers who have complained about the tone of the comment threads of late:

“Remove the comments section from your articles. The rude, hateful, racist, judgmental comments far outweigh those who may want to engage in some intelligent sideline conversation about the actual subject of the article. I am appalled at the amount of ‘free hate’ that is found on a website that represents honest and unbiased reporting such as NPR. What are you really gaining from all of these rabid comments other than proof that a sad slice of humanity that preys on the weak while spreading their hate?” a reader from North Carolina wrote to Jensen.

It is not an easy decision for any media property to make, to close their comments. Many media firms have found that loosely moderating comments dramatically increases web traffic – which, of course, can dramatically increase the money that can be made through advertising.

One common problem for any media website is fulfilling ad traffic requirements. It is far cheaper if one can reach the number of impressions needed though one’s own site than though buying traffic (less common among newspaper websites, but increasingly common elsewhere). Closely moderating comments cuts down traffic, closing comments cuts it still further.

But, there reaches a point, some editors believe, when comments lose their value. A comment thread is no place to interact with readers when the threads are filled with hate speech, trolls, or readers who simply have not actually read the article.

Still, there is a portion of the media world that firmly believes that an open web means open comment threads. Call this the ideological wing of the media world. Editors can edit their stories, but moderate or close comments? That goes against orthodoxy.

TNM’s position on this has not changed in six years, though I am constantly reevaluating that position: editors should be able to make this important decision, and circumstances can be different from one website to another. TNM’s own comments remain open, though heavily moderated. An editor (or publisher) is in the best position to decide what is the best policy for their own media property.

  • Charles Randall Paul 2 months ago

    Thanks for this piece. It clearly describes the problem. From the outset the Internet was designed for connectivity, not for trust. No place is the more obvious than in comment systems. You might be interested in this: for websites that cannot afford professional moderation, we have developed a system ( that will provide it through crowd-sourced ratings for trustworthy interaction.