Bismarck Tribune To The Public: Shut Up


The age of the internet has opened up a new way to interact with the media. Online commenting. At first newspapers embraced this new medium, assuming it would drive more traffic to their websites, which was (and still is) important because the trend in print advertising looks like this (you’ll note, per the red line, that online advertising hasn’t done much better):

But the old-media folks learned something about online commenting pretty quickly, which is that a) some people are real a-holes and b) other people are say inconvenient thing that don’t fit the narrative the old-media folks are used to controlling.

So slowly, with “a” being the excuse and “b” being the real motivation, the old media has got rid of the comments. At least, that’s the trend here in North Dakota anyway. Last year saw former Bismarck Tribune editor John Irby call it a career in the industry (he’s gone on to work as a flak for the higher ed system) blaming bloggers and online commenters for coarsening debate. Later that year the Fargo Forum got rid of anonymous commenting. Now the Tribune is clamping down on comments too.

You can read publisher Brian Kroshus’ explanation for the policy change here. He, as expected, uses “civility” as an excuse. But that’s all it is. An excuse to shut down a medium for dissent and disagreement.

Civility is a myth. It is a smug vanity that is incompatible with democracy. Disagreement and discord are inherent to politics, and politics is democracy. When people talk about a “return” to civility they are not only talking about a return to something that never actually exist in the first place, their true motivation is usually quashing dissent while pompously claiming the moral high ground.

This is an attempt to turn back the clock to a by-gone age in media where editors and publishers and producers controlled the narrative, with the only public dissent maybe coming from other media outlets or what little dissent made it through the filters in the form of letters to the editor and the like.

Here’s the truth: If you’re going to communicate about important and/or controversial things you’re going to inspire strong emotions and opinions in others. That should be embraced, not hampered and regulated. I’ve always run an open forum here at Say Anything (we’ll gladly welcome you Tribune readers who need a place to vent) because I think that’s one of the most important things I can contribute to public discourse in my little corner of the world.

Give me the brawling and the name-calling, because that’s real. That has value. The filtered, watered-down discourse the Tribune aspires to is not.

Rob Port is the editor of In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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  • Jay W.

    Just patching some holes in the echo chamber drywall.

  • RCND

    This is B as in B, S as in S. People who go to the comments section of an online paper know very well what they may come across, and assumed that risk when they went there. This is clearly all about power and being able to be in total control

  • The Whistler

    People read the newspapers for a lot of reasons. One of them is that they can comment. This just makes them go down hill faster.

  • Eunice D.

    I for one appreciate Rob for reporting stories like this one….this is becoming the more fair and balanced site to find out what is really happening….I may not agree with all the comments on here, but at least we’ve been able to make a comment on this site! Keep up the good work sayanythingblog.

  • Rugergal

    I’ve always liked reading the comments and commenting myself. Guess I won’t be going on their website near as much.

    • Rob

      You’ll just have to come here to discuss.

    • Jeff

      Honestly one of the top reasons I go to the tribune is for the comments. It’s nice to hear other perspectives and arguments on either side. A few troll posts or negative posts here and there is completely expected. As an IT guy and forum moderator myself I understand their headache but there is no way around it.

  • broadwayjoe

    It isnt called the spit toon for nothing

  • whowon

    I sent Brian a message on his Big Brother, Social Fairness decision. No reply…

  • barackHUisINSANEobama

    Come out to Seattle… The pi learned its lesson!

  • headward

    Another site that I will not visit anymore. No more page clicks for them or the forum. Wasn’t it one of these newspapers trying to get Rob for copyright infringement?

  • reggy

    No one even wants to consider the idea that it was a financial decision, since they’re in the business of making money?

    • Rob

      I guess we could consider that if you can explain how it would help. Comments are good web traffic.

  • VocalYokel

    When will the ‘Save the Trees’ crowd go after these flagrant wastrels?

  • Mental Crepitus

    Spot on article.

    Ironically, the elimination of comments will just hasten the print media’s death. When I noticed the comments drying up on certain comment-worthy articles, I swore I would find another venue for my local news. And then that douchosaurus Kroshus gets all uppity and bans comments altogether, and here I am at your blog. I’m sure I’m not alone in this exodus.

    In North Dakota, people will be getting their news from blogs like this one. They are tired of reading some worthless rag-papers that produce news angles no one wants to read, unless they like dabbling in high blood pressure. Besides, 66% of their news is just regurgitated AP newswire stories that are so incomplete and lacking in content, they rival the drivel printed on Chinese fortune cookie ribbons.

    When Irby was tooting his horn about the awards the Tribune had won, I told him it should have won the award for: “Best Use of Wood Fibers in an Absorbent Mat.” Soon after he quit and ran off to work for the Hi-Ed nazis. Hiel Edliter!!

  • Waski_the_Squirrel

    The Tribune is probably trying to limit liability or else to present a suitable image for advertisers. Some people can’t handle opposition, especially if it is strong opposition. There are even some who are openly offensive.

    This website is a great example of the full gamut of comments. Some are offensive, some are nasty, some are well-reasoned, some ramble aimlessly, and some are just pointless name-calling or personal conflicts. This is the nature of comment sections. The intelligent reader quickly learns who to ignore or when to stop reading.

    More importantly, the intelligent reader doesn’t take anything online personally. Sadly, some are offended easily, even by opposition. Some commenters are deliberately and personally offensive. The best response to those comments is to ignore them.

    Too many seem to lack the tools to deal with online interaction. And I think the Tribune is responding to a small but vocal minority.