GW Hatchet Shutters Comments Section Following Web Redesign

Following a comprehensive web redesign, The GW Hatchet has removed the comments section from its website

The Hatchet is the latest in a series of news organizations to remove the comments section from their websites over the last few years.

“The Hatchet aims to use a social media-first approach in interacting with our readers,” wrote Hatchet editor in chief Ellie Smith in an email to MediaFile. “We hope readers have engaging discussions on Facebook and Twitter.”

The Hatchet believes the conversation has shifted away from webpage-based commenting and discussion, as noted in a new commenting policy available on its website and linked at the bottom of new stories.

“From April 2016 to January 2017, less than 15 percent of stories published on The GW Hatchet’s website had comments,” Smith wrote, in an email to MediaFile. “Of the stories that got comments, most had only one. All comments are archived.”

As MediaFile reported, NPR removed the comments section on its website in August, renewing an industry-wide debate about whether public interaction can and should still exist on the story pages of news websites.

“After much experimentation and discussion, we’ve concluded that the comment sections on NPR.org stories are not providing a useful experience for the vast majority of our users,” wrote Scott Montgomery, NPR’s digital media editor, at the time. “We’re constantly asking ourselves where we can create the best dialogue with you and how we can deepen that relationship.”

The old Hatchet website/Courtesy: The Wayback Machine

NPR also noted that the conversation had shifted to social media, but also cited online harassment, gender disproportionality among commenters, and the high cost of paying in-house comment moderators. 

“The response has been interesting in that most of our audience has reached the same conclusion that we did — disappointment,” said Sara Goo, NPR’s deputy managing editor for digital. “We all so badly want, philosophically, for our website to be a public square of smart ideas and commentary and interaction with us and with each other. A forum of diverse views. But the data makes clear it just wasn’t that.”

Reuters, which shuttered comments on its news stories two years ago, decidedly maintained commenting on its blogs and opinions pieces “so columnists and readers can exchange ideas on interesting and controversial topics.”

Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan, who previously served as New York Times public editor, notably disagreed with disabling comments sections following NPR’s decision.

“I find value in reader comments that can’t be adequately reproduced elsewhere,” Sullivan wrote in September. “The argument that the conversation has migrated to Facebook and Twitter is flawed. […] News organizations should fix online comments rather than ditch them,” she concluded.

The new Hatchet website, updated on Tuesday.

While The Hatchet has just now shut down its comments, it is uncertain whether other student newspapers have removed them as well.

The Hatchet is the second-oldest newspaper in D.C. and was first printed in 1904. Recently, the student-run paper has been the subject of a MediaFile investigation that revealed it has been embroiled in a two-year court battle with D.C. over a disputed property tax bill. While the Mayor’s office has promised to “bury the hatchet without burying the Hatchet,” there has been no resolution or compromise reached yet.

Ken Chaletzky, president of The Hatchet’s nonprofit real estate arm, confirmed to MediaFile that the D.C. government has not contacted him since they made that promise in early January. While the Mayor’s office can influence the process politically, the independent CFO’s office holds power to resolve the dispute.

“I have not heard from anyone,” Chaletzky said in an email Wednesday morning.

Photography by Aly Kruse, MediaFile staff photographer.

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