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John Cruickshank, publisher of the Toronto Star, is pictured in the newspaper's newsroom on Sept 14 2015.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

The Toronto Star has done away with reader comments on its website, as online comment boards at newspapers become increasingly rare.

Michael Cooke, the Star's editor, said in a note to readers posted Wednesday that the paper has closed commenting on, promising to "engage with you in a more meaningful way."

Instead of hosting comments, the Star plans to promote comments shared on social media, or in more traditional letters to the editor, on its website. He also said the paper will launch a campaign to have readers weigh in on important city issues in the new year.

Reader comments, once seen as a fresh way to get a newspaper's audience more engaged in its journalism, have long been plagued by vitriol, foul language and racism, despite repeated attempts to use human and automated moderators to weed out the worst material. That has made such comment boards a dying breed on newspaper websites, as the conversation shifts to social media, where anonymity is less prevalent.

A spokesperson for the Star confirmed the decision was made "partly because of the negative tone of many comments."

When the Sun chain of papers closed comments on most of its stories in September, it angered some readers, delighted others and came as a relief to staff who were tasked with filtering thousands of daily posts. The paper wrestled with ways to balance its reputation for being a home to outspoken opinions with the responsibility not to be a home to malice and attacks.

Driven by similar motives, the National Post switched last fall to a system that requires users who want to comment to log in using their Facebook account – which the social network tries to ensure is registered under a user's real name – to make its commenters more accountable for their views.

But the Post's editor-in-chief, Anne Marie Owens, made it clear she thinks comments still play a key role, calling them "the lifeblood of communication between reader and audience at a modern newspaper" in a September note to readers.

The Globe and Mail allows registered users to leave comments on most online articles so long as they follow its stated community guidelines. Moderators remove comments that fail to do so.

In a bid not to turn avid commenters away, however, newspapers are still encouraging readers to say their piece – just through different channels.

"Our objective is to highlight the most thoughtful, insightful and provocative comments from readers and to inspire discussion across other platforms and on," Mr. Cooke said.

Follow James Bradshaw on Twitter: @jembradshawOpens in a new window

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