Newspapers get the comments they deserve

by Mathew on September 18, 2009

Since I became the first “communities editor” for The Globe and Mail newspaper in Toronto almost a year ago, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what makes for a good community – a healthy community – and what makes for a bad one. I’ve looked at every newspaper I can think of and tried to figure out what works and what doesn’t. I’ve looked at non-media communities like Metafilter and Slashdot and even (so help me) 4chan. I’ve looked at research into real-world communities and how they evolve, and why some thrive and some die out.

There are all sorts of manifestations of community on news sites – blogs, wikis, etc. – but one of the most fundamental elements of community is reader comments. Some media outlets only allow comments on certain stories; some pre-moderate, while others wait for readers to flag unpleasant comments and then remove them. Some sites do the moderating themselves; others outsource to companies like ICUC in Winnipeg. But everyone sees the value of comments, right? Wrong.

The reality is that – as Alfred Hermida of the University of British Columbia journalism school writes at MediaShift – many newspapers still see comments as some kind of necessary evil: a bone tossed to readers to help drive traffic, but something that produces little else of value. Hermida writes about research presented at the recent Future of Journalism conference in Wales (where he presented his “Twitter as ambient journalism” paper) that said most journalists see comments as containing very little news, and mainly view them as a nuisance.

(please read the rest of this post at the Neiman Journalism Lab)

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