September 20, 2016

While many news organizations are closing down their comment sections, The New York Times is using technology to double down.

Today, the Times announced a commenting-focused partnership with Jigsaw, the technology skunkworks of Google’s parent company, Alphabet. The newspaper is working with Jigsaw to create a new moderation system that will increase the speed at which comments are reviewed:

The new moderation system includes an optimized user interface and predictive models that will help The Times’s moderators group similar comments to make faster decisions, allowing more comments to be posted across The New York Times, while maintaining a respectful and substantive conversation.

Currently, about 10 percent of comments at The New York Times are moderated, a consequence of the time required for the newspaper’s team of 14 moderators to sift through a glut of about 11,000 daily reader observations.

This has been a sticking point for some time. In February 2015, then-New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan interviewed Bassey Etim, the Times’ community editor, about the comment review process. Then, Etim acknowledged that some would-be commenters sometimes felt stifled and pledged to increase the amount of stories that would be open for comments.

His team has made good on that pledge. In a story on The New York Times posted earlier today, Etim noted that economic constraints previously limited the number of stories that could be moderated. That will now change, he said:

Times readers have spoken, and we’ve been listening: You want the chance to comment on more stories, and you want your comments approved more quickly. Most of all, you want us to maintain the civility that makes this such a special place to contribute comments.

What’s taking so long? Etim’s post includes a test that allows you to try your hand at moderating New York Times comments according to their rules (I got three out of five correct). It requires moderators to make sure each comment has some kind of logical justification, which can take some time: According to my test, I would have to spend 27 hours to moderate the Times’ 11,000 daily comments.

Meanwhile, a parallel effort to improve commenting at The Times and elsewhere in the news industry, The Coral Project, is proceeding apace from within the newspaper’s Manhattan newsroom.

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Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism…
Benjamin Mullin

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