The Atlantic closes its comments - and makes them more important, too

The Atlantic joins many other sites in turning off comments - but that doesn’t mean its abandoning reader commentary.

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

Well now, The Atlantic has made an interesting decision — it’s closing its comments section, but it has other plans…

Instead of hosting these sorts of unhelpful, even destructive, conversations on, we are choosing now to elevate respectful, intelligent discourse and argument. We want smart and critical readers to have a more visible role on our site, and we’re looking forward to hearing from you, and publishing you.

What does “elevate” mean? It means they will be constructing articles out of readers’ comments. This reminds me strongly of the approach Andrew Sullivan used to take with the late, lamented Dish. No comments on that blog, but readers emails were amalgamated into interesting posts at least daily – sometimes more. It’s an interesting way of valuing and rewarding reader interaction — but in a way that removes the reward (attention) of bad or trolling behaviour.

James Fallows, who writes The Atlantic Notes (are we allowed to call it a blog? It looks like a blog…) is particularly happy about the move:

To me this is welcome news, in that it finally brings my own personal practices into compliance with Official Magazine Policy. Over the decades of online writing for the magazine—yes, decades, since the debut of what was called Atlantic Unbound back during Bill Clinton’s first term—I’ve quoted reader mail as often and amply as I could manage, but never had open comments on my own articles or posts.

This approach tells the reader that their feedback is valuable – valuable enough to become part of an article – and is considered, someone reads it and evaluates it for inclusion. That’s so much better on high-traffic sites than a neglected comments section with only the moderators’ imprecise scythe to try and create some quality.

I’d love to see more titles take this approach, rather than just shutting down reader comments entirely.

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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.