The Disappearing News Media Comment Sections

As the former director of community for HuffPost, where he led the management of an active, massive comment section, Tim McDonald has had a unique vantage point to the mass closure of news media comment sections. Patrick and Tim go in depth on that topic on this episode.

Toward the end, Tim shares what he believes will be his greatest community ROI story: He has stage IV colon cancer and is in need of a liver donor and could get a lot closer with your help.  Please visit for more info.


  • Why Tim believes he doesn’t make a good soccer referee – or content moderator
  • Keeping track of your community wins – both qualitative and quantitative
  • Leveraging relationships with influential community members to get your message across, rather than being the face of the community yourself

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Big Quotes

You can’t make everyone happy in moderation (10:56): “I would hate it when there was a close call [as a soccer referee] because I knew in my head what the call was but I knew if I looked at it objectively from one team’s viewpoint and from the other team’s viewpoint, half were going to be happy with me, half were going to be upset with me, and I wanted to make everybody happy. You can’t do that in comment moderation, and you can’t do that being a referee.” –@tamcdonald

Allowing influential members to do the talking (11:34): “I didn’t need to get into the [HuffPost] community and be the face of the community. I could just have relationships with about a dozen of our community members who were very well respected and let them do the talking. But in exchange, I would take phone calls from them at home, at night, on the weekends. I would listen to them, I would understand what they were going through, but I would also be able to convey what, from a company standpoint, we were trying to achieve. When I did that, they started understanding.” –@tamcdonald

If we aren’t going to invest in it, why spend so much effort? (19:08): “My very last day [at HuffPost was] when we pushed the button and [switched to Facebook Comments]. Everybody looked at me like I was crazy, but I just told everybody, ‘I’ve come up with solutions. I’ve come up with options. Nobody wants to pay for this. If we can’t invest in it, and we’re not willing to invest in it, and we’re not going to generate any revenue off of it, why are we supporting it?’ That was the end of it. Obviously, they still had comments. They still do have comments, but it’s nothing to what it was back when I was at HuffPost.” –@tamcdonald

Document your community wins (22:53): “The subscriber growth of The New York Times is often cited … by media folks and executives as an example of the D2C model, but I think people would do well to remember that The New York Times never closed their comments. … People want that success of, ‘Look at all the people they have paying for news,’ but they don’t necessarily want to do that work that is moderating comments for 20 years to build a section that is befitting of The New York Times.” –@patrickokeefe

Document your community wins (30:02): “We say [document your wins], but we don’t necessarily always talk about the process through which we capture that, and so it fails. … If it’s easy and it’s comprehensive, then you’re going to do it. Whereas if it’s manual and it’s slow, not only are you not going to do it, but when you don’t do it, you’re going to not be able to access that information as easily.” –@patrickokeefe

Generous giving is the greatest community ROI (34:16): “When I find [a liver] donor through [the communities] I’ve built up over the years, that is going to be the greatest ROI because I don’t think there’s a price that we can put on our lives, and I don’t think there’s a price that we can put on the amount of giving that that would take from another human being.” –@tamcdonald

About Tim McDonald

Tim McDonald is the community account manager for He is the former director of community at HuffPost, founder of My Community Manager, and director of communications for Social Media Club Chicago. Tim works with organizations and individuals who are stuck to get them unstuck. He helps people connect with their voice and stories. He is also a speaker and facilitates workshops.

Recognizing how fear held him back, he has changed his relationship with fear and has used it to get unstuck and end a 17-year marriage, meet his life partner, move to a new city, twice, leave a toxic job, and currently looks at having stage IV metastasized colon cancer as a gift. Tim is in search of a liver donor with surgery planned around September 2022. If you think this could be you, please visit for more info.


Your Thoughts

If you have any thoughts on this episode that you’d like to share, please leave me a comment, send me an email or a tweet. If you enjoy the show, we would be so grateful if you spread the word and supported Community Signal on Patreon.

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