Online comments sections – in their most ideal form – are supposed to be places readers could leave their thoughts after they had read an article. It was supposed to serve as a forum where civilized discussion could take place and would add value even after a piece was finished. Instead, we’ve all become more acquainted with the Internet troll and flaming. Now, many news organizations are re-evaluating the necessity of having comments sections at all. In 2013, the Huffington Post banned anonymous commenters. Last year, Reuters (for news stories), Popular Science, Re/code, and the Chicago Sun-Times eliminated their comments and were joined this year by Bloomberg. Tablet Magazine made news last month when it announced a plan to charge would-be commenters. And yet, many news organizations still maintain comment sections and find value having them. We’ll dive into the issue with Dan Colarusso, executive editor of digital at Reuters; Bassey Etim, community manager for the New York Times; Dave Mosher, online director at Popular Science; and Talia Stroud, director of the Engaging News Project at the University of Texas Austin. PBS MediaShift’s Mark Glaser will host and Jefferson Yen will be producing.
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Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He is a longtime freelance writer and editor, who has contributed to magazines such as Entertainment Weekly, Wired and Conde Nast Traveler, and websites such as CNET and the Yale Global Forum. He lives in San Francisco with his wife Renee and son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.
Dan Colarusso is the Executive Editor, Digital at Reuters, responsible for the content on its consumer online platforms and digital video products, including Reuters TV and Reuters.com. Before joining Reuters in late 2011, he was the U.S. managing editor of Bloomberg TV, managing editor of CondeNast’s Portfolio.com and worked as Business editor and Metro editor of the New York Post. He tweets @Colarusso42
Bassey Etim is a journalist and musician from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He lives in Brooklyn and runs the Community Desk at The New York Times. His 13-strong moderation team is responsible for reader comments across nytimes.com. Bassey is a member of the NYT Audience Development team and is currently working with the open source “Coral” Project with the Times, Mozilla and Washington Post. Find him on Twitter @BasseyE
Dave Mosher is the online director of Popular Science, the world’s largest science and technology magazine. Mosher is a journalist with a biology degree whose work has appeared in WIRED, Scientific American, Popular Mechanics, Discover, Space.com, National Geographic News, Discovery.com, and other outlets. In his reporting adventures, Mosher has watched humans and robots launch into space, chronicled crazy home-built contraptions, toured defunct nuclear reactors, and open-sourced his microbiome in the name of science. Follow him @DaveMosher
Talia Stroud is the Director of the Engaging News Project at the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life and Associate Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Her book, Niche News , examines like-minded political media use and inspired this project. The book received the 2012 Outstanding Book Award from the International Communication Association. Stroud previously worked at the Annenberg Public Policy Center. She tweets @TaliaStroud
Apart from being an eyesore, incivility in comments sections can have a detrimental effect on how we perceive the news. A 2013 study showed that nasty online comments can also have a polarizing effect on an audience’s perception. But it looks like comments are here to stay. Last year, the Associated Press Media Editors were surveyed and 71 percent of editors said it was unlikely they would ban comments altogether. That doesn’t mean newsrooms don’t have ways to make online conversations more civil. In the same survey, editors reported that switching over to Facebook comments led to a slight improvement in tone.
The Engaging News Project just released a study on ways newsrooms might help encourage constructive discussions. One of their key findings: When reporters interacted with the comments sections, uncivil comments declined by 15 percent. The same wasn’t true, however, when the news organization interacted with commenters. By asking closed-ended questions within the article, reporters were able to decrease uncivil comments by 9 percent.
Are you turned off by online comment sections? Do you think websites should have comment sections? Are you more or less inclined to participate when you are anonymous? Should publishers remove comments sections, do a better job moderating them or charge for them?
Jefferson Yen is the producer for the Mediatwits Podcast. His work has been on KPCC Southern California Public Radio and KRTS Marfa Public Radio. You can follow him @jeffersontyen.
That comment sections are invented and included even in renominated newspapers, is one of the best things ever.
My own experience reading the comments of readers of several of them has been of admiration, or respect, or being instructed in many several ways, or happiness to know that there are others out there thinking like me concerning some things.
To be instructed in knowing what people think is one of the useful things — even when they think or comment offensive and stupid things.
It is also extremely clear that comments have immense influence, and instruct the public, often changing their ideas or knowledge about something, in the direction of better and truer information. This is the best and most important part. But some people just have the amazing ability of writing so well, that to read what they wrote is like going for a swim on a sunny beach.
1: Do you think websites should have comment sections? — Yes.
2: Are you more or less inclined to participate when you are anonymous? — No. Makes no difference to me. Goes one way or the other as it comes. But people should have their right to protect themselves, or others, when needed.
3: Should publishers remove comments sections? — No.
4: Should publishers do a better job moderating them? — I don’t know to answer that right now completely, because of all the extreme cases I’m imagining that could happen.
But for instance, whenever I came across a youtube video of a portuguese or anything to do with one of them or Portugal, there was inevitably a row of extreme almost exclusively VERY offensive rubbish “comments” by brazilians. Just name calling, denigration and racism of the worst kind, the other way around, etc. But it is VERY GOOD to know that that is how so many brazilians think and have been LED to think!
5:Should publishers charge for them? — Of course, not. If they do that, I’ll not read them anymore for sure. The comments would be of no value whatsoever.