The Berkshire Eagle abruptly suspended its link to Topix on Friday, with a three-paragraph announcement on its website. The posting says the disconnect was done while "its managers examine options for online discussions."
The North Adams Transcript and Bennington Banner were still using Topix over the weekend.
The Eagle and its sister New England Newspaper publications signed onto the independent forum site and local news aggregator a couple years ago to use its platform for commenting on its articles. Topix, headquartered in Palo Alto, Calif., was launched with capital from the Knight Ridder, Tribune and Gannett news publishing groups.
In March, TechCrunch reported Topix overall was getting more than 125,000 comments a day and 120 million pageviews a month. It's the type of commenting that happens on Topix, however, that may be giving The Eagle pause. The site removes 45,000 comments a month and gets hit with 10 subpoenas a week. (For more on Topix's growth, the TechCrunch article is here.)
iBerkshires was posting some of its stories to the Topix discussions groups; we also are editors for North Adams, Pittsfield and Williamstown and the photos you see on the North Adams news page are ours. But the quick slide into nastiness in the Topix forums led me, the editor, to stop posting. The Topix aggregator roboblogger still picks up our stuff but there are rarely any comments. As far as I can tell, most readers around here arrive at Topix through the newspapers' online articles not through the town news pages.
Topix is not so much a community forum for the sharing of ideas, but a cesspool of name-calling, slander and really, really inappropriate comments. For every thoughtful idea or positive comment, there are 10, or a hundred, verbal assaults. The site's immediate posting of anonymous commentary certainly fuels the fiery ripostes and a coalition of attorneys general have targeted some of the site's practices.
We know that the newspapers' editors have removed abusive comments as best they can.
At iBerkshires, we're stodgy but clean. Every comment is reviewed before posting; sometimes it's a difficult call between snarky, honest-if-critical opinion and nastiness. We've had to pull some comments after initially posting them but overall we've done our best to keep posters on track. We are considering ways to make it easier to post that will likely mean some type of membership with us.
According The Eagle post, it wants "a forum for open and respectful discussions." We hope we've been providing our readers with that for the past few years. If we need to do more, let us know.
Update: The Transcript joined its sister paper in delinking from Topix on Tuesday, Aug. 10. It offered the same brief reasoning on its website, stating "The Transcript has suspended our Topix forum indefinitely due to continuing abuse."
Both papers say they're looking at other forms that will allow commenting to resume.