Inside Higher Ed has published reader comments about our articles since we launched the site in January 2005. We did so as part of our core belief that good journalism depends on building a sense of community in which readers are able to share their voices. We wanted to ensure that everyone in higher education, regardless of their position or institution, had an opportunity to contribute their perspectives.
At times, the comments have added significantly to our understanding of our readers and their views on higher education and on the various pieces we publish -- positive and negative. And many readers welcome the perspectives of their peers.
In recent years, however, we have had the same challenges many other online publishers face with regard to comments. The comments sections have come to be dominated by a small number of readers. As is true of so many elements of the digital landscape, our comments reflect the coarsening of interpersonal discourse, especially when people communicate anonymously, as the majority of our commenters do. (We allowed anonymous comments to protect vulnerable adjunct professors and staff members who might legitimately fear for their jobs if they were identified.) The comments have become a deterrent for a significant number of our readers and have lost much of their value.
We have previously done our best to tame the worst elements of our comments while sustaining their original promise. Several years ago, we asked readers for feedback and imposed new rules that we hoped would deter those who mistreat others while continuing to provide an open forum for the exchange of perspectives. Unfortunately, those changes were not effective at improving the relevance and civility of comments.
We remain committed to sharing reader perspectives and are excited to announce that we are replacing comments with letters to the editor effective next week, July 1, 2020. Letters have long been a traditional part of news media, and we admire that tradition. Like comments, letters to the editor can provide our readers with new views on key issues. It is our hope that the significance of letters to the editor will encourage thoughtful and civil submissions; if readers disagree with an opinion expressed in an article, they may submit a letter to the editor to respectfully challenge that point of view.
How will letters be different from comments?
- We will aim to publish letters that add to the debate on an issue and say something different from what’s been said to date. A letter that simply repeats the points made by previously letters may not be printed.
- Special efforts will be made to publish letters that disagree with the perspective taken by Inside Higher Ed articles or opinions.
- A letter should reference the article or opinion piece it is about.
- In most cases, letters should include the (real) name and job title of the author. In cases where the author may face professional or other difficulties for expressing an opinion, Inside Higher Ed will consider publishing a letter without a name. Those who wish to be considered should state their reason (on the form for submitting).
We expect to receive fewer letters to the editor than we have received comments. But we hope they will be more substantive and useful. We also hope they will provide a more civil platform for discussion and debate.
Inside Higher Ed continues to believe that our talented journalists and thoughtful contributors do not own collectively the knowledge and wisdom about what’s happening in higher education and that our readers need to participate in the conversation.
We depend on you and your perspectives to widen our own and those of your peers and hope that you will embrace this new way of doing so.