Tips on crowdsourcing, user-generated content, managing comments and other ways of connecting with communities.

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How talk radio listens to its audience, provides lessons for online publishers

Colin McEnroe of WNPR. Photo by Chion Wolf

Audience participation hasn’t been an easy undertaking for online news publishers. Thanks to the unruly culture of online commenting and the “sadistic” actions of Internet trolls, every few weeks another news site announces modifications to its online commenting policy. Among the changes seen lately: Read more

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Friday, Dec. 20, 2013


Poynter experiments with ReadrBoard reader comments

Poynter is experimenting with a new commenting and annotation tool, ReadrBoard, which allows users to chart their reactions by paragraph and leave comments inside a story.

You can tell which Poynter stories we’re testing with ReadrBoard by finding the Reactions button; under the headline of some stories, there is a button with an icon that looks like bubbles with the word “Reactions” and a caret (the arrow pointing downwards):

When you hover your mouse over the button, ReadrBoard will show you how other readers have responded to the article. Click on the reactions to read comments other readers have left.

To leave your own responses, click on “What do you think?” and a series of rectangles will appear. You can click on the rectangles which best encapsulates your reaction to the story: Hilarious. Love it. Uh, no. Amazing. These are the options are now available in the story on email encryption by Jeremy Barr. Read more


Wednesday, Dec. 04, 2013

Newrooms can co-exist with online comments with moderation and a strategy. (Depositphotos)

Can reporters help repair online comment sections?

Several years ago during a seminar at Poynter, we were talking about engaging our audiences.

“We ask our readers and viewers to comment on our stories,” one participant said, “but unless we respond to them, how will they know we’re listening?

“Their assumption,” he said, “is that we’re not.”

In the years since, I’ve heard from a lot of journalists who confirm that, indeed, they’re not listening. They don’t read users’ comments for a variety of reasons: no time, no interest, no stomach for the cesspools they often find there.

Meanwhile, I’ve heard other journalists and newsroom leaders say that journalism’s future requires a different, more interactive relationship with the audience, one in which people outside the newsroom share their expertise and engage in productive debate. That’s how democracies thrive cheap nike air max.

Which brings us back to those cursed Web comments sections. What can be done to make more of them places for productive debate? Read more

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Wednesday, Nov. 06, 2013

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Despite complaints, comments broadly allowed on many news sites

With the recent focus on online reader comments — see The New Yorker on “The Psychology of Online Comments” and The New York Times Magazine on “Four Ways to Improve the Culture of Commenting” — it’s a good time to survey the field and see how news organizations allow comments. (We’ll save the subject of moderation for another day.)

Starting with Alexa’s list of the top 500 sites in the U.S., I took the first 50 that could loosely be defined as news sites, removing sites such as Drudge Report and AOL that primarily linked out to other news sources. I also removed sites with strategies that would be redundant to include (such as Businessweek because Bloomberg was already on the list, and Lifehacker because it’s part of the Gawker network).

Finally, I focused only on the site’s main domain and not on affiliated sites such as blogs, which often have different commenting systems and standards. Read more


Monday, Feb. 18, 2013


5 ways to engage more with your audience — in person and online

Talk about engagement with a journalist these days, and the conversation turns quickly to social media. Who can deny the influence of social media, which now serves as a news source for one-third of adults under 30?

If you really want to connect with people, though, social media is only part of the equation. Digital can be a proxy for interaction, but it works better when paired with the real thing.

At the Chicago Tribune, our newsroom employs a chain of engagement in a program we call Trib Nation. It includes actions that are familiar to the most fiercely orthodox readers and journalists: running corrections. It includes live programs created by journalists in auditoriums around Chicago and one-on-one conversations that follow them. It includes social Tweetups with digital natives and invitations to join us for conversations at our headquarters in Tribune Tower.

When I took part last fall in Poynter’s Social Media Webinar Series to talk about “Finding Your Social Media Voice,” a number of participants seized on the idea that “social media” could involve more than digital technology. Read more


Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013


Early comments on stories affect what later readers believe, and what they say

A recent scientific experiment demonstrated the importance of intervening in comment sections to cultivate constructive discussion, particularly just after publication.

Scientific American Blog Editor Bora Zivkovic writes about the results, which showed that the tone of pre-existing comments on a story affected subsequent readers.

An article about nanotechnology, a topic most people know very little about and usually have no a priori biases for or against, was presented to the test subjects. Half the people saw the article with (invented) polite, civil and constructive comments. The other half was given the same article but with uncivil comments – essentially a flame-war in the fake commenting thread. The result is that readers of the second version quickly developed affinity for one side of the argument and strongly took that side, which affected the way they understood and trusted the original article (text of which was unaltered). The nasty comment thread polarized the opinion of readers, leading them to misunderstand the original article.

Read more

Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012

How to keep social media reaction in perspective when covering the elections

Flip the channel or the page, and you’ll find it: coverage of the social media reaction to news events — and political events like conventions and debates.

Much of it, however, talks about that reaction as though it represents the entire population. That, or it offers numbers without context (tweets per minute! Number of times the debate is mentioned!), as Stephen Colbert so ably skewered. For many news organizations, Twitter in particular has become a stand-in for public reaction.

The problem with that? Simple — social media users may be a lot like you and me, but they are not like everyone. Only 85 percent of people in the U.S. use the Internet. (Don’t get me started on the fact that we don’t talk about the 15 percent of Americans who don’t have access to the Internet. Fifteen percent!). Of those who do use the Internet, about half are on Facebook and 16 percent are on Twitter. Read more


Thursday, May 31, 2007

Assessing Legal Risks and Guidelines for User Comments

By Al Tompkins
Broadcast/Online Group Leader

As newsrooms across the country grapple with online user comments, the discussion often turns to legal implications. I wanted to demystify the matter and sort through the rumor and rhetoric. So I went after some straight answers from people who actually know.

I consulted two media attorneys in a market I covered for years, Nashville, to learn more about what legal concerns
journalism organizations should have when they allow members of the public to
freely post comments on public Web sites. I interviewed (by e-mail) Alan E. Korpady,
of King & Ballow, and Robb S. Harvey, of
Waller, Lansden Dortch & Davis.

are the legal issues that newsrooms should consider when opening their Web
sites to public comment?

Harvey: Newsrooms
not only as a matter of common sense but also for reasons
of self-preservation must consider whether their Web sites are likely to
attract comments that could pose liability risks. Read more


Thursday, May 24, 2007

Feedback for Thought: Did We Do the Right Thing?

By Scott Libin
Poynter Online Managing Editor

Where I work, the legendary status
of Eugene Patterson is perhaps second only to that of Nelson Poynter
himself. Patterson won a Pulitzer Prize
for his Atlanta Constitution columns
on civil rights during the 1960s. He
became editor of the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times
in 1972 and, upon Poynter’s death in 1978, became chairman of the board of the
Modern Media Institute, now known as The Poynter Institute.

A more-revered figure around here
would be hard to name. So, when someone
said on this site last week
that Patterson should have been shot for those
civil rights columns,
well, those would be fightin’ words — if we at the Institute weren’t such a
collegial group.

The comment came from Bill White,
commander of the American National Socialist Workers’ Party, whose magazine
cover for April features a swastika and the huge headline reading “Happy
Birthday Hitler.” White was responding
to a piece by Poynter’s Roy Peter Clark titled “They Shot His Dog: Historical
Lessons on Incivility,”

which drew a parallel between the racist hate letters that appeared on op-ed
pages in the South during the ’60s and some of the online user comments causing
concern among journalists across the country today. Read more


Baggy Pants, Drunken Driving and Day Care: Cincy’s Challenges with User Comments

By Bob Steele
The Nelson Poynter Scholar for Journalism Values

I recently spent a couple of days trying to help people in The (Cincinnati) Enquirer newsroom come to terms with ethical challenges that affect journalists almost everywhere in this cyber era.

How do you honor the values of accuracy and fairness when immediacy and speed are new priorities? How do you protect the credibility of the journalism when you deploy more reporters to breaking news? How do you guard the integrity of the newspaper when online journalism looks so different? Are the values different for how stories are judged? Are the sensibilities different for how readers react to the content online compared to the paper?

Nowhere are those questions of values and sensibilities trickier than in the area of online comments by readers. Our spirited discussion at The Enquirer echoed themes from a recent piece by Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell. Read more