November 6, 2013

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:

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Sam Kirkland is Poynter's digital media fellow, focusing on mobile and social media trends. Previously, he worked at the Chicago Sun-Times as a digital editor,…
Sam Kirkland

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