The Spinoff cuts off comments

Following the lead of Radio New Zealand who earlier this week announced they would no longer allow comments on their website, yesterday The Spinoff announced they are also disabling comments.

Editor and Publisher Duncan Grieve: The end of comments on The Spinoff

Today The Spinoff officially turns off comments. Here editor Duncan Greive explains his reasoning behind the decision.

As of today, as of exactly right now, The Spinoff is turning off Disqus, the comments engine we’ve used since we started in September of 2014. The motivations are simple and twofold. First, comments make us no money but have a cost. Second, they have been getting vile at times, a trend I see as likely to worsen as we evolve. I’ve been mulling it ever since I read this excellent summary of The Problem with Comments on, of all ye olde places, Popbitch. And I was spurred into action after reading Megan Whelan’s announcement that RNZ is doing it over on their platform earlier this week.

The financial side:

…we, more so than most commercial websites, lack a mechanism by which we gain from return visitors to a page. While comments may have started as a method of engaging with your audience and allowing feedback on a story, they evolved into mostly being another vehicle by which an advertising-funded site might gain a few more ad impressions. As we don’t get paid per page view – and have no plans to ever evolve into a site which does – return visits to a particular story are nice but essentially meaningless to us.

The cost comes in because comments need moderating. It needs to be part of someone’s job to read them. Which both takes time, and means some poor young Spinoff employee has to spend part of their day wading through a cesspit of weird raging avatars each day. I don’t really see the upside to that.

Using “some poor young Spinoff employee” to do the moderation suggests they put a low priority on comments and their management. It’s not surprising they ended up with a cesspit of weird raging avatars each day.

But the main reason is “We’re turning them off because they have been getting horrible at times”.

Seriously bleak and offensive. And I don’t see that changing.

Why am I so confident that the current plague of nasty, often misogynist comments is the beginning, not the end of a trend? Because we’re gaining a much bigger audience – in June we topped 400,000 unique users for the first time.

And because a big part of how we’re attracting that audience is by confronting some parts of New Zealand’s society and culture which have been toxic for too long. In the past month alone we’ve had commentary on racism, misogyny and homophobia – and that was just in a single piece on a vile RadioSport segment.

One, it should be noted, that has since been abandoned, thanks largely to the furore our reporting of the segment caused.

That’s a shame. Big issues need to be openly discussed. But decent needs to be properly managed, and it seems that mainstream media and journalists don’t have the skills or motivation to do that. So they give up.

This decision helps contain the risk of publishing bad words to just our staff and contributors, rather than a semi-anonymous section of people looking to fight the tide of progress to a more just and rational world.

Because that’s in part what The Spinoff has evolved to become. A place where ideas are tested, where some of the shittier assumptions our society has lived with for too long are confronted and dismantled.

So, as of right now, we’re following Bloomberg, CNN and others into the comment-free future. If that makes you mad and you want to respond, you know where to find us.

How are you supposed to confront and dismantle “some of the shittier assumptions our society has lived with for too long” without allowing them to be discussed?

It’s challenging enabling online debate on contentious issues, but I think it’s important that the effort is made.

It requires hard work and time.

But I think in the modern age of communication we have to find workable ways of being inclusive with our handling of issues.

People want to participate. In an open and democratic society they should be able to participate.

It’s the choice of major media to scrap their attempts to be inclusive. RNZ, The Spinoff and others do some good but we need more than elite media lecturing to us.

Fortunately there are plenty of alternatives that will continue to allow open discussion, and that are prepared to minimise the crap and grow the good things that debate can give us.

Leave a comment


  1. David

     /  15th July 2016

    “It’s the choice of major media to scrap their attempts to be inclusive. RNZ, The Spinoff and others do some good but we need more than elite media lecturing to us.”

    I wonder how much of this is media discovering just how different their world view is to many of their readers. Without active input, I think they will find the readership drop back to just the small segment that agrees with them.

  2. Alan Wilkinson

     /  15th July 2016

    By their readers ye shall know them. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Stuff go the same way at least on political stories.

  3. Iceberg

     /  15th July 2016

    “but we need more than elite media lecturing to us”

    If we went back Letters to the Editor, with no online forum’s for political debate, would we be worse off?

    • For those of us who have written “Letters to Editors”, we already know that they are a waste of time. If the Editor doesn’t like the content it is invariably not published. Another blow to our Democracy from the MSM. They will disappear into the shadows of the dark place they are destined for.

      • I might add, I find that it is really ironical that such is the MSM’s inability to deal with different views to theirs, the only option is total censorship. Tome the fourth estate loses its historical rights on the grounds that the MSM no longer is prepared to meet its obligations.


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