April 12, 2014

Chicago Sun-Times

The Chicago Sun-Times has temporarily eliminated story commenting on its website until it can develop a system that will “foster a productive discussion rather than an embarrassing mishmash of fringe ranting and ill-informed, shrill bomb-throwing,” managing editor Craig Newman announced:

The world of Internet commenting offers a marvelous opportunity for discussion and the exchange of ideas. But as anyone who has ever ventured into a comment thread can attest, these forums too often turn into a morass of negativity, racism, hate speech and general trollish behaviors that detract from the content.

In fact, the general tone and demeanor is one of the chief criticisms we hear in regard to the usability and quality of our websites and articles. Not only have we heard your criticisms, but we often find ourselves as frustrated as our readers are with the tone and quality of commentary on our pages.

Popular Science did away with comments completely last September, sparking debate about whether benefits of commenters pointing out errors and offering opposing views outweigh the costs of commenters poisoning debate and misleading readers. The magazine couldn’t afford moderators, as many news organizations can’t.

One solution tried by media sites: cutting down on anonymity by using Facebook comments or another social login. Some loyal Huffington Post commenters revolted when the media site required all users to link a verified Facebook account to their HuffPost accounts late last year. Meanwhile, Google outraged many YouTube users by forcing them to use Google+ in a bid to reduce anonymity in its commenting sections, widely regarded as cesspools.

TechCrunch has said that switching to Facebook comments is effective for silencing trolls — but it can silence productive commenters, too. Studies have indicated anonymous comments are less civil but also promote more engagement.

Last September, The New York Times Magazine suggested four ways to improve the culture of online comments.

Disclosure: I used to work for the Sun-Times.

Related: HuffPost policy banishes trolls — and drives away some frequent commenters | How talk radio listens to its audience, provides lessons for online publishers | Can reporters help repair online comment sections? | Despite complaints, comments broadly allowed on many news sites

Related training: Managing Comments on Your News Site

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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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