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Seattle Times columnist can’t stand commenters, retires

Seattle Weekly
Seattle Times sports columnist Steve Kelley has standard reasons for retiring at 63: “I find myself at a lot more games thinking ‘I’ve written this story 411 times now. Isn’t that enough?’” he tells Seattle Weekly contributor Rick Anderson.

But another complaint puts him squarely in league with former Ohio Rep. Steve LaTourette and fans of science writing: “”The reader comments section, it’s a free-for-all,” Kelley said.

“The level of discourse has become so inane and nasty. And it’s not just at the Times, it’s ESPN, everywhere – people, anonymous people, take shots at the story, writers, each other. Whatever you’ve achieved in that story gets drowned out by this chorus of idiots.”

Kelley says he won’t write a farewell column. His last column will run near the end of January, Anderson says. Read more


Researchers: Online commenters impair readers’ scientific literacy

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
People who read newspaper and magazine reports on science “may be influenced as much by the comments at the end of the story as they are by the report itself,” a study by University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers says.

2,000 subjects who read “a balanced news report about nanotechnology” saw either civil or rowdy comments, Mark Johnson reports in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“Disturbingly, readers’ interpretations of potential risks associated with the technology described in the news article differed significantly depending only on the tone of the manipulated reader comments posted with the story,” wrote authors Dominique Brossard and Dietram A. Scheufele.

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How the Huffington Post handles 70+ million comments a year

The Huffington Post has accumulated more than 70 million comments so far this year, far surpassing the 2011 total of 54 million.

To take a single example, its post (the first published) with the now-famous video of Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” comments attracted a mind-blowing 171,753 comments.

All news sites struggle with user comments in some way or another, but moderating this enormous volume of messages is a unique test of whether online conversations as we know them — a dozen people making a few points on a blog post or article — can scale infinitely larger without collapsing into cacophony.

User comments on Huffington Post articles have surged over the years, to about 8 million in July and 9 million (not pictured) in August.
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How journalists can turn their stories into conversations

Social media have made it easier than ever for journalists to engage their readers in conversation. They’ve also changed the way we think about other, “nonsocial” media.

Maybe that’s why many journalists have given up on monitoring our comment sections. The philosophical justification goes something like this: Journalists can’t justifiably restrict the free speech of their readers while relying on it for their work. The practical argument is more pessimistic: Resources are limited now more than ever, and journalists can’t afford to invest in comment sections without guaranteed returns.

The alternative model has been popularized by Ta-Nehisi Coates, who blogs at The Atlantic. There, he gives his blog away to his readers several times a week (“It’s yours…”), but not before insisting that they live up to a civil standard. Read more


NPR, other news orgs tighten comment moderation to improve conversation | MinnPost | Charleston Gazette | Vancouver Sun | MarketWatch
NPR switched its user commenting to the Disqus platform this week, and is increasing its moderation efforts in response to user demand.

It took the unusual step of sending readers an email survey in advance, asking for ideas and feedback about how to improve the commenting system. More than 6,000 responded. The big surprise, social media product manager Kate Myers writes, is that readers called for more comment moderation.

We asked this question in our recent NPR audience survey:

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Judge orders Spokesman-Review to ID anonymous commenter

Seattle Weekly | The Spokesman-Review | NPR | Los Angeles Times
An Idaho judge ruled on July 10 that The Spokesman-Review had 14 days to reveal the identity of an online commenter after a Kootenai County politician sued the paper, claiming the commenter libeled her. On July 24 the paper reported that the commenter had revealed herself: Linda Cook, who’s also active in county politics.

Judge John Patrick Luster also waded into the question of whether the staffer who removed Cook’s comment from the newspaper blog was entitled to journalistic protections, Rick Anderson writes in Seattle Weekly:

Idaho doesn’t have a reporter’s shield law, to protect sources, and even if it did, Luster said, [Spokesman-Review blogger Dave] Oliveria was not acting as a journalist, in the judge’s view.

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New study: Real names improve quality of website comments


A study of South Korean website commenters adds to the debate over whether requiring real names improves online discourse. Gregory Ferenstein writes:

For 4 years, Koreans enacted increasingly stiff real-name commenting laws, first for political websites in 2003, then for all websites receiving more than 300,000 viewers in 2007, and was finally tightened to 100,000 viewers a year later after online slander was cited in the suicide of a national figure. The policy, however, was ditched shortly after a Korean Communications Commission study found that it only decreased malicious comments by 0.9%. Korean sites were also inundated by hackers, presumably after valuable identities.

The study, he writes, provides some real data to combat the theorizing that using real names fosters better online discourse. Read more


Anonymous comments can be ‘a frothing, bubbling cauldron of insanity’

Adweek | Mental Floss
Ryan Broderick has a job I suspect would make me flee the grid after about two days: He’s BuzzFeed’s community manager, responsible for combing through about 22,000 comments a month, reports Adweek’s Charlie Warzel. Broderick says comments, even the worst ones, have a socio-biological explanation:

“There is a social realm where things are rationally sorted and then there’s the anonymous place that brings out a person’s base instincts. It can become a frothing, bubbling cauldron of insanity,” he said. “Yet, you need that animalistic part of yourself. I think of it almost like your sex drive.”

Both Broderick and Huffington Post community manager Justin Isaf defend anonymous commenting, however: “Anonymity can do amazing, extremely creative things if you believe in it,” Broderick says. Read more


Gawker plans a business model based on comments and conversation, not posts and ads

Reuters | GigaOM
Nick Denton is betting that comments will be a big new business for the future of Gawker Media. Felix Salmon explains how Gawker is reinventing comments and plans to sell advertisers the ability to create conversations. In an earlier memo, Denton wrote, “the days of the banner advertisement are numbered. In two years, our primary offering to marketers will be our discussion platform.”

Will it work? Salmon points out the biggest potential flaw: “The problem here, for Denton — and the reason why he got an editorial guy to run this new project — is the old one: how to persuade his websites’ readers to read the sponsored posts and to engage in their comments sections.”

Earlier: Denton’s new advertising system may foreshadow a post-blogger future (Poynter) || Related: The problem with Facebook’s ad model (Technology Review) | Why GM and others fail with Facebook ads (Business Week). Read more

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