Here is a question that comes up fairly frequently: Why are comments on some articles open and on others closed?
One reader wrote to say this was discussed at a social event. "The consensus was a frustration in that the practice seems almost arbitrary. One recent example is Margaret Wente's column The distorted reality of 'Big Ears Teddy'. If any column (or columnist, for that matter) deserves comment, it is this one and yet comments were closed. It strikes me that if a piece has sufficient merit to warrant its posting, then it surely ought to be open to comment. Else, it should be removed."
Another reader wrote in about the same column. "So I can't express my disappointment. … I don't think eight women 'are all cooked up' in cahoots with a jilted ex. Not when we've seen how this story goes for women. Not when women get doxxed and worse for merely speaking openly about sexism in our culture, let alone physical or sexual abuse. … I would also point out that if you're going to publish a column, you should be prepared to ride the lightning in the comments."
"Please explain, or point me in the direction where I can gain an understanding of the G&M's decisions on this matter," the first reader said.
On Tuesday, globeandmail.com's executive editor, Jim Sheppard, reminded editors in an internal memo that there have been a number of stories, such as the Ottawa attack, the Jian Ghomeshi case and others, where comments have been closed in limited circumstances. He said this is normally done where there is a danger of commenters committing libel or prejudicing an accused's right to a fair trial. He cited this distinction:
• Stories about possible criminal activities or where the danger of a future lawsuit is real should be closed. These include, for example, anything on the shooter in Ottawa or Ghomeshi's actions, confirmed or alleged.
• Stories that are primarily about broader issues that arise from such incidents – such as national security vs. personal privacy, or the prevalence of sexual harassment in the workplace – should be premoderated.
Premoderated means that comments are permitted but are vetted before publication.
There were some stories open to comments on the Ghomeshi matter and also on the Ottawa shootings, but editors generally chose a few stories to be open and not all. Mr. Sheppard says editors are told to be safe, rather than sorry, in such cases.
While I understand the need to close comments on some articles, I agree that on many subjects premoderation is a better idea than simply closing comments. In general, I think the readers have a point about columns and I think there should be a bias toward keeping opinion columns open to comments to allow for a free discussion and debate of the issues.