The most striking conclusion I’ve come to based on the results of the commenting survey that 49 online news folks answered over the last week or two was this:
Commenting on news stories is still broken. Busted. Stinks. It’s a mudpit. Still.
I’ve been writing about how to improve commenting on news sites for a couple years now, but all my ideas — and really, most of the systems I’m borrowing ideas from — are technological solutions.
And that’s fine, and good, and necessary, but the feeling I’m walking away from these survey results with is the feeling that no matter what technical solution a news organization implements, there are still a set of very human problems to be solved in the newsroom if you really want to raise the quality of the comment threads on your stories.
In short, you can let readers “report as offensive” and ask questions and e-mail to a friend and vote comments up and down and recommend comments all day long, but if there’s not a journalist managing the community — participating in threads, asking and answering questions, and generally continuing the conversation — your comment threads will stay a mudpit, all technology, identity, and registration aside.
So here are a few ideas. Thinking out loud here, so please feel free to add your thoughts in the comments here.
- Take an hour or two one day, Web producer or online editor, and make sure every reporter and editor in the newsroom is registered (if necessary) for your site’s commenting system. Send them their login and password information for it, and follow up at their desk — get them to log in while you stand there if you can.
- Don’t make one staffer responsible for comment monitoring and moderation every day — rotate throughout the week. Comment moderation can be a drag, frankly, and it’s easy to get sick of dealing with abuse reports and reader complaints. Let a few people take a turn, and invite editors and reporters to join in, even if it’s just for a few hours at a time.
- Take the crazy Air Force flowchart seriously! Make your own and print it out for comment moderators as a basic guide to which commenters to engage in conversation and when to let trolls have their say.
- If you’re an online editor or Web producer who sends out a daily or weekly e-mail to the newsroom with a list of popular stories or recommended reading, add a comment of the day to that message, or tack it up on the bulletin board.
What else? Again, we’re looking to work on the human (as in, your newsroom staff) issues, not the technological ones, for the moment, at least.