Readers of the local Michigan news website MLive’s have slammed the outlet after it announced its comments section will be permanently closing on Thursday (February 20).
John Hiner, the vice president of content for MLive Media Group, wrote that the comments section is being shut down so that MLive can “have more meaningful conversations with everyone – not just the loudest and most frequent voices.”
However, the top comments on the announcement have criticized the decision with some suggesting that the real motivation for shutting down the comments section is to engage in censorship and silence dissenting opinions.
One reader wrote: “Mlive has literally engaged in censorship while being a member of the Free Press. Remove uncivil comments, I agree. But Mlive has for years removed very civil comments that were critical of their reporting, their judgment or their biases. The very essence of our democracy continues to be completely misunderstood by Mlive and it’s leadership. No one like criticism, civil or otherwise. But it is an essential part of being a responsible journalist. It’s stunning how Mlive behaves at times as a member of the Free Press.”
“The majority of comments are from those on the right and that does not sit well with MLive’s agenda. Now we will have a barrage of editorials so MLive can get their talking points across without having to hear an opinion from the other side,” added another reader.
“The comments are frequently better written than the article,” wrote one reader. “Your clicks are about to go way, way down.”
In an email to Reclaim the Net, another reader wrote that the comments section has been a valuable source of additional information and alternative opinions over the years and was one of the few places where they could hold their local government accountable.
This reader added that the comments section proved particularly beneficial because the quality of reporting at the outlet has deteriorated greatly and most local stories about the city’s government now only reflect what government officials say.
“No substantial dissenting opinion is sought, nor published, even if such dissenting opinions were made public at local city council meetings,” this reader told Reclaim The Net. “The local comments section is the only place were one can easily find questions or information that the local press will not dare to ask or reveal, such as apparent conflicts of interest, factual errors, past instances of self dealing, and other prior information that challenges the intended narrative of the story.”
This reader also described how the anonymity provided by the comments section is essential because it allows locals to challenge the government without fear of retaliation or harassment from public officials.
Specifically, the reader discussed how the comments section provides more context when MLive reports positively on real estate development deals by pointing to similar developments that have failed in the past and discussing how these failed developments have left taxpayers liable for the financial losses.
After learning that the comments section would be closing down, the reader wrote:
“The comments section in my local newspaper was one of the few remaining outlets were citizens have any actual hope of holding their corrupt local government accountable. I cannot be an informed citizen if I am only presented one side of the story.”
The pending closure of the MLive comments section comes as several other local news outlets owned by Advance Media LLC, the parent company of MLive, have also shuttered their comments sections in recent months.