Mumbrella will no longer publish comments: Why we’ve made the call

This opinion piece will be the last story on Mumbrella with comments. Head of content Damian Francis explains why now was the right time to make the decision.

From today, Mumbrella will no longer publish reader comments. This policy will be for all of the content we publish, regardless of what it is.

The ethos behind Mumbrella’s long-held stance on publishing comments has shifted as the brand has developed and today’s announcement is a continuation of that shift.

In January this year, Mumbrella changed its comment policy. Mumbrella founder Tim Burrowes wrote at the time, “Previously, we’ve worked on the basis that unless there’s a reason not to publish a comment, it deserves to see the light of day. Under our new moderation policy, we’ll only be publishing comments that we believe are worth our audience seeing.”

Now was an ideal time to reassess the [comment] situation

Making the decision to scrap comments altogether just eight months on from the new policy may seem more like one giant leap rather than one small step, but I feel it’s an important leap to make for Mumbrella, its staff and the industry. And now is as good a time as ever to do that – when we can make that decision clearly, analytically, and without emotion or pressure.

There are no industry fires burning on a pile of reader comments, there are no pressure groups banging down our or others’ doors. No, nothing of the sort.

One month ago, I stepped into the role of head of content, overseeing Mumbrella’s entire content operation, including events, editorial, awards and more. Essentially, it was the role that Tim had filled since founding Mumbrella.

Until then, the debate around comments, and indeed, anonymous comments in particular, was one I could observe from the sidelines. In my mind, there are solid arguments for both sides. An open channel of communications for the industry, particularly those without a big voice, versus a poisonous well of uneducated opinion and name calling. That’s an overly basic assessment, of course – the arguments on both sides run substantially deeper than that.

I found that I didn’t side wholly with one party or the other. And I kept out of the debate. I did not participate in the now infamous meeting of the minds called by WPP AUNZ chairman, John Steedman – which followed his open letter to the industry – or join the round table that we ran at one of our industry retreats in Tasmania, despite the fact I was there. As head of event content, it simply wasn’t my race to run.

Steedman called a roundtable on the issue of anonymous comments, which was held last year

On acceptance of this new role, that has obviously changed. And with there being a lull in commentary around comments of any variety in the trade press, now was an ideal time to reassess the situation and see if the position Mumbrella has taken was still the position that worked best.

In my judgement, and the team’s when I put it to them, it was not. There are three main reasons for that.

Firstly, the quality of debate in the comments has, in our opinion, lessened over the last 12 months. That could be for a number of reasons, not least the significant losses that have occurred in the industry of late, but regardless, the smart and sensible debates we would often see have died down. It wasn’t replaced by vicious commentary or trolls, it just wasn’t replaced.

Secondly, quality reporting on the media and marketing industry comes first. Always. In improving the policy in January this year, we created a significant amount of extra work for ourselves. Work that, at the time, was worth it and added to the quality of content on Mumbrella.

However, the reality of the matter is that we, like many in this industry, are currently working less hours. It was more important for us to focus on news and analysis rather than comment moderation, and I believe you will see this pay off in the very near future, particularly after we make the two key editorial hires we are currently searching for.

But this is not a short term idea either. At some stage, we will make those key hires, and we will go back to five days. I will still insist that spending more time on quality reporting should be the number one priority.

Thirdly, we want to foster a community through Mumbrella. That means opening the communication channels with as much of the industry as possible. That doesn’t gel so well when the history of the comments has been, at times, vicious, rather than supportive. Nor does it gel when there is such significant debate around the value of comments.

Editor-at-large Tim Burrowes at last year’s Mumbrella retreat, at which a roundtable on the Mumbrella comments section was held

One popular opinion was to insist commenters log in or provide email addresses. But we know two things for sure. Firstly, that’s easy to fake. Tim proved it previously, creating a fake email and posting under the name C. Ridron on an Adnews article. Secondly, few people comment when they are forced to provide additional details.

Burrowes testing the AdNews moderation system that required  people to log in – he is C. Ridron

But what about those who used to use the comments to provide tips? Especially those who are not in leadership positions in the industry but still have important stories to tell? You know, the people trade journalists don’t often speak to. The people who live through the good and the bad and who can often be important whistleblowers on industry misdemeanours?

I’d argue that discovery via the comments is not the right way. More importantly – it’s a difficult call to make when it comes to deciding what’s worth posting, what’s worth investigating, and what’s the work of a disgruntled industry member. It sounds simple; it is anything but.

So, from today, we’ll be making it even easier to get in touch with a journalist to have a chat. Our details are already available here, but at the bottom of each story will be contact information. Please use it. Whether you have information on the article, wish to put forward an opinion or just want to reach out.

As journalists, we’re professional communicators. One of my first instructions to the team was to focus on that – communicate with as much of the industry as possible.

There are, of course, many other factors that have gone into this decision. I would be remiss not to mention mental health.

At Mumbrella’s CommsCon last year, in a session with Edelman CEO Michelle Hutton, I mentioned I had struggled with mental health challenges in the past. Many people do, whether they admit it or not.

Having dealt with the complexities of these challenges a number of times as a manager over the last decade as well, I want the industry to move forward, not backwards. I’m sure Mumbrella can help achieve that without comments. I’m not sure it can with them.

We will continue to champion discussion and action regarding mental health in this industry. We will do it without comments on Mumbrella.

The length of this opinion piece has probably made it seem like switching off the comments on Mumbrella is a massive deal. Maybe it is. But I am confident that in doing so, the result will be a more engaged, and more engaging, Mumbrella. A Mumbrella that is a must-read, but for new reasons.

A Mumbrella that will soon host new content I hope is even harder to put down.

If you have read this far, thank you for indulging me and for your interest in Mumbrella. If you would like to get in touch and provide an opinion or start a conversation, please do. You can drop me a line on damian@mumbrella.com.au.

So this is it. This is the last story on Mumbrella with comments. Go on, have at it in the comments section, but remember, we have a comment moderation policy that we will adhere to strictly, for this post anyway.


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