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NPR Gets Rid of Its Comment Section — Should You?

two men in fist fight

In a moment of simultaneous release and frustration, we discovered a few days ago that one of our favorite bastions of online insanity — the National Public Radio (NPR) website comment section — had been wiped from the face of the earth forever.

Admittedly, the emotion we felt more of was relief. After all, this writer in particular had developed a nasty habit of clicking on a story more so to see the freak show fracas in the comments than read the story itself.

Many thought pieces have since raised the question, “Should we mourn the loss of comments as a loss of expression?” However, as marketers, we are more apt to think, “Should other organizations follow suit?” After all, gutting the comments feature must have felt akin to Sisyphus finally getting rid of his boulder. The Gordian knot-esque solution of axing the feature frees up resources, and it also drains the cesspool of negativity and extremism that comments so frequently devolved into.

While these benefits are all no doubt good things, we hesitate to recommend that smaller businesses take NPR’s scorched earth policy to commenting.

Why NPR Comments Will Only Barely Be Missed

When commenting erupted onto the online scene, many hailed it as an egalitarian platform for sharing views. Since then, we’ve gotten just a bit tired of all the trolling.

Comments inevitably seem to rear up the following unproductive, unpleasant trends:

  • Blatant “isms” — racism, sexism, ageism, ableism, some more racism
  • People repeating the same exact things because they clearly didn’t read
  • Hardcore reactionaries repeating the latest illogical talking point they heard on talk radio
  • Hardcore progressives repeating the latest illogical talking point they read on their alt news site
  • In-fighting, name calling
  • Non sequiturs dragging every post into partisan battles
  • The reductionism! Oh the reductionism! Comments sections are where deep thoughts often go to die and become reborn as shallow aphorisms
  • People repeating the same exact things because they clearly didn’t read
  • Spam spam spam spam spammity spam wonderful spam

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These are of course, vivid examples of the negatives of comments sections, but the few positives mostly boil down to facile jokes and puns. Other times, great thoughts get buried under the above dreck because of the overstuffed nature of many active comments sections.

Most problematic of all, the comments section — at least at NPR — was not a democratic forum. NPR’s Scott Montgomery notes that while drew between 25 and 35 million unique visitors each month, only 2,600 visitors posted a comment in each of the last three months. Therefore, only 0.0003 percent of NPR users regularly post in the comments, a paltry enough number to convince the higher ups that the upkeep was simply not worth the pain.

Additionally, while roughly 52 percent of the reader population was male, males made up 83 percent of the commenters. Tired of the noisy tyranny of the minority, NPR decided comments had to go.

Why You Should Maybe Not Consider Going NPR’s Route

Any website that shares NPR’s commenting issue should consider just how similar their situation is or isn’t before reacting accordingly. The truth is that NPR was in a unique position to not care about commenters. does not necessarily rely on site visitors or readership numbers to survive. Most of their income comes from donations driven by their radio programs.

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Other sites, like business-owned sites and not-publicly-funded media companies, can benefit from the traffic commenters bring. Even if the discussion frequently turns sour, repeat visitor traffic can drive up exposures. For businesses, repeat visitors help boost SERPs rankings little-by-little while increasing the odds of a desired conversion.

Therefore, small businesses without as rowdy or as large of a following should first attempt to dedicate resources to improve commenting. They may actually want to encourage users to comment in order to balance out the share of voice in the thread. What they absolutely need not to do is let comments govern themselves. Delete blatantly obscene posts immediately without prejudice, and discourage tangents, name-calling and other things that mar conversation.

Commenting features that let authors flag particularly relevant comments also ensures that comments add to a page, not set up a sideshow next to it.

Eventually, you may be lucky enough to either afford constant comment moderation or the luxury of not caring, as NPR no longer does. Until that point, though, an active comments section just may be your friend.

If you need help developing Web pages that make commenting easier on you and visitors, EverSpark can help find the solutions you need. Contact us to find out more and get started today.