When the Times shut down comments on Emily Gould's still-physically-unpublished magazine cover story Friday, we — OK, I — speculated the newspaper "might be having second thoughts" about the value of generating online buzz, "barring some kind of technical concern." Well, there doesn't appear to have been any technical concern, but, based on information from one Times source, it sounds more likely comments were closed to shift staff to newer stories.
At the Times, you see, a human screens every comment, filtering obscenity and, when need be, emailing potential corrections to editors. Since there are only so many moderators, comments on any given story are eventually closed. In the case of Gould's article and the Clinton editorial, comments were closed less than 24 hours after the story went online. Fast! In other cases, it might take a couple of days to shut down comments.
Our source knew of no cases of comments being turned off based on the content of the comments.
It still seems a bit absurd that the Times would take pride in stoking an online discussion when it doesn't have the staff to manage that discussion. It is also self-defeating of the newspaper to rob paying print subscribers of the ability to comment on a story just because it was released early online to freeloaders. But it's hard to get too outraged at a decision to cap comments at around 700. Any comments beyond that number are really only going to be read by New York magazine writers trolling for story ideas.