The Atlantic shuts off comments on WikiLeaks article, practices radical transparency in response

The Atlantic
Alexis Madrigal writes that turning off comments on a WikiLeaks article this week turned into a lesson in honesty and transparency.

On Monday afternoon, Madrigal, a senior editor at The Atlantic, posted an article by Jaron Lanier, intending to disable comments at the request of the author. Due to a technical glitch, 10 readers were able to post before comments actually were switched off.

That led to a series of inquiries on Twitter from readers, including Jay Rosen, Mathew Ingram and others.

Madrigal calls the decision an experiment that went “quite badly.” He writes he would consider shutting off comments again in the future but:

“A) it better be a damn good reason and B) we better clearly indicate other ways of interacting both with each other, the editors, and the author. I wasn’t clear enough about what was going on at the outset nor when I actually shut off comments after a few hours.”

What is notable about this case is not the disabling of comments, or the reader reaction, but Madrigal’s handling of the situation.

When challenged on the issue via Twitter, he openly admitted error. He engaged critics, explained his thought process and looked for constructive solutions.

And at the end of the day, Madrigal did a complete post-mortem of the incident, summarizing the process, conversation and lessons learned. At the top of his list: be willing to make mistakes — learn from them — and be open.

“I’m an experimenter and so are many of the staffers here at The Atlantic. We’ve been tremendously lucky that most of the things we’ve tried have worked. But you don’t always experiment for the good times. You need to have things not work sometimes. There’s nothing like a (very) public learning experience to focus the mind on the things that matter for your site.”

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