Articles about "comments"


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?

Three ideas I hear most often are these:

  • Comments need to be moderated.
  • Comments sections need to be more than fenced-off areas for the public to talk among themselves. They need to be part of a newsroom’s coverage strategy.
  • Reporters and editors need to participate in the conversation.

For starters, moderation. Conversations on websites that moderate comments tend to be more substantial and less venomous. So why aren’t more comments sections moderated?

Money, of course. Many newsrooms have decided they don’t have the resources to invest in good comments sections. A few are “deputizing” members of the public to police comments, and the verdict is still out. The others? Well, as my mother would say, you get what you pay for.

Does your newsroom moderate comments?

Often, the same newsrooms that don’t moderate also lack a strategy for comments — beyond the idea that news organizations have an obligation to make space available for a public forum. Like abandoned properties, comments sections without strategies quickly become neglected and fall into disrepair. The best comments sections reflect a plan for hearing the public, benefiting from its expertise and promoting meaningful discussions of issues.

Does your newsroom have a serious strategy for comments?

A third contributor to better comments sections — especially when accompanied by moderation — is the involvement of reporters and editors in the conversations. But talk about a hard sell.

Yes, newsroom staffs are handling more responsibilities than ever. And this does amount to new work. But the truth is, most journalists have never been anxious to mix it up with the public. Newspaper editors and reporters for years responded to unhappy readers with one, or both, of these scripted responses: “We stand behind our story,” and “Why don’t you write a letter to the editor?”

And remember the reaction to publishing reporters’ email addresses at the end of stories? As that debate unfolded, I remember becoming increasingly uncomfortable that we who demanded unlimited access to those we were covering, wanted desperately to limit anyone’s access to us.

Today, we publish reporters’ email addresses, are (generally) more willing to look into complaints and publish far more contributions from our readers and viewers, at least their comments. And slowly, a growing number of newsrooms are requiring or strongly encouraging reporters and editors to wade into those comments and talk with the users who post them.

One such newsroom is the Financial Times. Sarah Laitner, the London-based newsroom’s communities editor, told me during a recent visit to Poynter about the FT’s efforts to involve reporters in the comments sections, and the results they’ve seen. The FT moderates comments. They are part of a strategy, as is the desire for the journalists to participate in them. Sarah is quick to point out that the effort is evolving, but she says the FT already has seen benefits.

Here is a Q&A I conducted with Sarah and her colleague, social media journalist Maija Palmer:

Ward: The FT has embarked on a serious effort to have its reporters engage readers in the comments section on articles on your website. Why? What role does that play in the FT’s strategy?

Laitner: Readers’ comments on our site inform us, reward us and often surprise us. The comment box is a space in which readers can agree, disagree, foster connections with each other and challenge us. When our journalists join in, they show that we listen and have our readers in mind. This is particularly important for a subscription site such as ft.com.

When I comment online, I’m usually thrilled if a journalist or fellow poster answers me, and I hope my colleagues are able to provoke the same reaction in their readers.

Palmer: I think the way that journalism is conducted is changing. In many cases, there is a lot we can learn from our readers who can be real experts in particular subjects. We should be moving more to taking suggestions from readers on what we are covering. Some journalists have found that one astute comment under their story can provide the starting point for another article.

Ward: Specifically, what have you asked FT’s reporters to do with online comments? Is it a mandate or a suggestion?

Laitner: We have asked our colleagues to read the comments on their ft.com stories and we strongly encourage them to reply. We know everyone is busy, but we do ask them to take a few minutes to review comments on their stories from the past 24 hours. We don’t expect them to respond to everyone and it doesn’t have to be at length, but we do want to show that we are listening.

A great example of reader interaction is on FT Alphaville, our finance and markets blog, where our journalists chat to their loyal band of readers pretty much all the time, and know them well. Our UK personal finance team talks to readers through its live Q&A series. Here’s a recent example, featuring the British pensions minister: http://on.ft.com/18HdhDi

Palmer: Our columnists regularly answer the comments under their articles and often can end up in debate with readers. It can be enjoyable and it has raised the level of the comments a great deal.

Laitner: Our news editors also have become more involved in comment threads, which helps to spread the load.

Ward: How are you communicating the effort about engaging with readers’ comments on ft.com and the strategy behind it?

Laitner: The message has come from the top, from the editor. Training sessions with me and Maija, emails, blog posts and water cooler moments also help to get the message across. We explain the value of reader interaction and point out the benefits of getting to know readers who may be experts in their fields. We also try to share examples of when conversations with readers can be really helpful for the journalist. Here’s one such case: http://blogs.ft.com/ft-long-short/2013/08/13/the-cape-of-less-hope/

Web traffic is another incentive. Our homepage has a box featuring “best comments” from our readers. We invite our journalists to make suggestions for the homepage box. If a comment posted on their story appears in the box, their article usually has a surge in traffic.

Also, Maija and I try to show our journalists how effective timely and judicious use of Twitter can get the ball rolling in traffic and commenting.

Ward: What was the reporters’ reaction to the new work? How did management respond to the response?

Laitner: As with any new initiative, some people take to it readily and others need more persuasion. We point out that reading comments can improve colleagues’ knowledge of their beats and potentially lead them to make new sources.

At the same time, I think it helps if you recognize your colleagues’ concerns. We want to protect our journalists from the abuse and unpleasantness that comes with some online comments, especially on topics that stir strong emotions or opinions. Even the thickest-skinned of colleagues can be unsettled by hostile comments. We try to help by intervening in comment threads and acting against fiery users who verbally abuse our journalists. We also remind colleagues that commenters tend to write criticism more than they do praise, but if you foster a community then readers will stand up for you and intervene against hostile types.

We have found that if our journalists and moderators intervene early in uncivil threads then the decorum tends to improve. In some cases, we simply need to accept that a civil debate isn’t possible and close the thread instead.

Ward: Can you point to any results this effort has produced? Have your readers noticed?

Laitner: Yes. We have received story ideas, picked up readers’ dislikes and raised the tone of some debates on our site. And readers have noticed our efforts. One (Ex NHS Surgeon) wrote recently: “The beauty of FT is not so much the articles themselves, but the treasure trove in the comments. Not that I can pretend to understand more than a fraction of the total.” And another (@khakieconomist) wrote: “I really like that the @FT puts top reader comments on the front page. Creates a real incentive to make worthwhile comments. Why not copied?”

We are curious about our commenters on ft.com, many of whom post using pseudonyms. My colleague, Lisa Pollack, head of new projects, had the great idea of a survey to ask them what they thought about our commenting functions. She dipped into comment threads and posted a link to our questions. Several readers told us to “keep up the good work,” which was heartening! Respondents expressed appreciation for our journalists who regularly wade into comments to reply to readers and further the discussion. FT Alphaville was mentioned as an example of the right amount of interaction.

Ward: What have you learned from this effort? Would you do anything differently next time? Any advice for other newsrooms?

Laitner: Explain the advantages of going into comment threads; someone who is an expert in their field could be posting on there anonymously and sharing valuable insights.

Remind journalists that it’s a compliment that readers are taking the time to post their views.

Remember that you are dealing with the emotions of your colleagues and your readers. Always try to put yourself in their shoes. Read more

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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.

Of the 50 sites I identified, none lacked a commenting system. In fact, just five of the sites — The New York Times, Fox News, BBC, The Guardian and CBS News — seemed to limit the number of stories available for comment in a significant way, with stories allowing comments particularly hard to find on the BBC’s site. The vast majority of sites I looked at seemed to allow comments everywhere. None of these major players in online news has done away with comments completely, as Popular Science did in September.

Meanwhile, more than 80 percent of the sites surveyed permit comments on stories via social-network plugins such as Disqus, Livefyre, Gigya and others:

Interestingly, of the six sites that required registration and didn’t permit commenting via social media, three were newspaper websites, even though newspaper websites made up less than one-quarter of all the sites surveyed. That could indicate newspaper sites have been slower to catch up with the possibilities of social-media commenting.

According to Pew, 64 percent of American adults have a Facebook account, and it’s appealing to be able to post a reader comment without having to sign up for yet another user name and password to keep track of. Eighty-six percent of the 50 websites visited allow readers to comment on stories via Facebook, and two of the top 10 — ESPN and USA Today — require it.

Given that research shows Facebook comments are more civil than anonymous comments, it’s no surprise news organizations are pushing readers in that direction and risking less engagement by giving readers a reason to think before they post, knowing their real identities (in most cases) will be linked to the comments they leave cheap jordans.

Only two sites — Gawker and People — permitted completely anonymous posting without even email verification. (Many sites, of course, permit anonymous screen names, but only after completing a registration process.)

See the full list of sites surveyed below:

Read more

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NPR says the sources it gets through Facebook are worth the heated comments

Thursday morning NPR posted a query on Facebook: “Do you know of an innovative African American start-up or technologist active in Silicon Valley or in your community? Share your thoughts here or email tellmemore@npr.org #NPRBlacksinTech.” The NPR show “Tell Me More” often features the stories and voices of minorities.

Here’s a smattering of what followed, organized into some themes that emerged.
The outraged and confused:
“Why does their race matter? Racists!!!” Read more

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Splitsider, too, ends Web comments

Splitsider | On the Media

The comedy site Splitsider is turning off comments on most of its stories, Editor Adam Frucci writes. “For one, we’ve never had much of a commenting community to begin with,” he explains, continuing:

Unlike sites about politics or social matters, people don’t seem to have much to say about comedy news. And when we do get comments, much of the time they’re either offensive or just without any real substance. We put a lot of work into the content on this site, and it’s frustrating to have folks finish reading an article only to be confronted with mean-spirited garbage at the bottom of the page. Furthermore, we’re a small team without the time and energy to dedicate to policing and cleaning up comments. So we’re getting rid of them. And I’ll be honest, it feels pretty great.

So, no comments completely unmoderated comments,” PJ Vogt writes for On the Media. “That said, I’m not sure how hard it is to moderate, even on a shoestring budget.”

Previously: Popular Science eliminates comments | Popular Science editor: Comments ‘became too much to really fight back’ against


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Climate-change deniers can still leave comments at L.A. Times

The Los Angeles Times will not publish letters from climate-change deniers, but it does allow online comments that express that point of view, as long as they’re not too mean.

The Times can remove “inappropriate” comments, Hillary Manning, director of communications for the Times, told Poynter in an e-mail yesterday. Otherwise, its policy is similar to those at many other sites: Comments must be “germane to the article,” and they can’t be “abusive, off-topic or foul.” They can’t be “racist, sexist or homophobic.” They can’t advertise or spam, and they can’t “celebrate the death, injury or illness of any person, public figure or otherwise.”

At the bottom of each comments section, Manning notes, is a sentence saying, “The Times makes no guarantee of comments’ factual accuracy.”

Related: L.A. Times will no longer print letters that deny climate change | Report: Stories about politics inspire best, worst comments Read more

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What a commenter has to do to get banned from The New York Times

In a recent WAN-IFRA report, New York Times Community Manager Bassey Etim said his organization has banned commenters “maybe once or twice in our history.” Reached by phone, Etim said the number has gone up since he gave an interview to the report’s authors, but not by much: “It’s very, very rare for us,” he said. “It’s fewer than 10 nonspammers.”

Yes, the Times will ban spammers, but real people need to seriously misbehave to get the hook, Etim said. One early stop for someone violating the site’s commenting rules is a “low reputation” list that gets his or her comments reviewed by one of the Times’ 13 moderators. (The Times has “essentially had the same team of moderators for years and years,” Etim said, giving the Times’ decisions, which it acknowledges are subjective, some continuity and institutional knowledge.)

“Threats of violence are the only thing I’ll ban for, really,” Etim said. The “vast majority of that handful” of people the Times has banned has made “really racist statements combined with a death threat against a whole race.”

The Times would refer a specific death threat to the police, but “we’ve never had a specific, actionable death threat against a reporter.” Read more

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Report: Stories about politics inspire best, worst comments

Researchers from the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) spoke with online editors and community managers at 104 news organizations from 63 countries to help assemble a report written by Emma Goodman about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to online comments.

Many said stories about politics attracted the most high-quality comments. Several respondents, however, said such stories are “the type of articles that attract the worst comments.”

Next best were niche lifestyle areas such as travel, women-specific content, cars, technology, science and history, with 12 mentions.

Sebastian Horn from Germany’s Die Zeit cited “anything that is technical in nature” as a good-comment magnet. But a respondent from The Dallas Morning News told the organization most people in its newsroom “are not interested in comments or feel they’re a necessary evil.”

On average, respondents said they deleted 11 percent of comments. But few organizations view moderation as a chance to do more with the remaining comments.

“Your most frequent commenters are your best customers,” The Seattle Times’ Bob Payne told researchers.

They know more about your site than anybody else. They know more about your reporters and how they write. And they’re constantly on your website giving you page views. And yet we do very little to acknowledge or commend these people. I think very few sites do – some give badges for most positive commenters but most don’t do anything and a lot of people wish commenters would go away. But in fact these are the people who live and breathe your site. They call it this ‘my college football blog’, ‘my photo area’, not The Seattle Times because they are so ingrained in it.

Seventy-one percent of respondents said they block commenters who violate their rules. The Winnipeg Free Press said it uses “what we call a bozo filter” to block trolls: Such posters still see “their comments but no one else does.” The New York Times’ Bassey Etim says the organization has blocked people “maybe once or twice in our history.”

The report recommends best practices for publishers, including hiring a community manager and encouraging journalists to join discussions. Publications should also try to “protect minority opinions,” it says: “If a publication moderates actively, they can use this procedure to ensure that minority voices aren’t continuously drowned out.”

Related: Popular Science editor: Comments ‘became too much to really fight back’ against | NYT community manager: Good comments shouldn’t sit among those designed to cause conflict | 25% of people have posted anonymous comments, Pew finds | Huffington Post deletes 75 percent of incoming comments

Related training: Managing Comments on Your News Site | Designing the Web for Democracy Read more

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Popular Science editor: Comments ‘became too much to really fight back’ against

KPCC | Paid Content | Slate | The Atlantic

Bad comments “became too much to really fight back” against at Popular Science, associate editor Dan Nosowitz said in a radio appearance Wednesday. “We’re not in favor of discouraging discussion or discourse,” he told KPCC. “It’s just that we think that the current form we have for comments wasn’t doing our readers much of a service.”

Popular Science is “totally in favor of substantive disagreements,” Nosowitz said. “What we are not in favor of is having those published on our site. I don’t think that diminishes public discussion, to just decline to publish anything on our site that anyone wants to write.”

Popular Science’s decision to shut off comments prompted both negative and positive reactions this week: Read more

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Popular Science eliminates comments

Popular Science | The New York Times

Intellectual debate has been overwhelmed by “trolls and spambots” in Popular Science’s comments section, Suzanne LaBarre writes. So the publication is turning them off, as of today. “Comments can be bad for science,” LaBarre writes.

A politically motivated, decades-long war on expertise has eroded the popular consensus on a wide variety of scientifically validated topics. Everything, from evolution to the origins of climate change, is mistakenly up for grabs again. Scientific certainty is just another thing for two people to “debate” on television. And because comments sections tend to be a grotesque reflection of the media culture surrounding them, the cynical work of undermining bedrock scientific doctrine is now being done beneath our own stories, within a website devoted to championing science.

Coincidentally, Michael Erard, whose New York Times Magazine story about comments said news organizations may have erred by placing comments below stories, offered several ways to improve comments in a blog post Monday afternoon. Publishers should deputize readers to do more moderation, for instance, because the idea that the Web offers infinite space is flawed: “The tragedy of the comments is a tragedy of the commons, because the unreplenishable resource that has been overexploited when comment threads go awry is the finite amount of attention that we have to spend reading.”

Related: NYT community manager: Good comments shouldn’t sit among those designed to cause conflict Read more

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NYT community manager: Good comments shouldn’t sit among those designed to cause conflict

The New York Times | Digiday

Newspaper comment sections are often “filled with racism, homophobia and barely literate anti-feminist rants,” New York Times community manager Bassey Etim says in an interview with Samantha Henig.

I don’t see how you can claim to respect your readers and allow their well-considered thoughts to live side by side with comments from people who write countless posts every day to satisfy a perverse craving for causing conflict among humans.

Etim and Henig spoke about Michael Erard’s think piece about comments, published in Sunday’s Times Magazine. Among the ideas Erard floats: By placing comments below posts, news organizations misread their potential and created “the steerage class of the public discourse.” Read more

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