Ditching comments on stories. It’s time.

Bye bye commenting on our newspaper stories. That probably sounds kind of bitter. I don’t mean to be, because we’re actually changing things up a little. Conversation is still encouraged – in fact we’re going to give our readers around four options to discuss our stories: A “Tweet This” option, a link to our daily live chat, a link to our forums, and of course, a link to submit a letter to the editor.

It all began when we came to the conclusion that our commenting policy needed to be updated and revised. During this process, I came across three awesome articles on this very subject:

All of these give voice to what we here at the Indy are thinking about commenting. It was Kiyoshi Martinez’s comment about replacing commenting with a ‘Tweet This’ link that really stayed with me.

I’ve always advocated the need for comments, even when they get ridiculous. I’ve also been moderating our forums and story comments for several years now. Maybe I’ve become jaded – or more likely I’ve simply changed my mind – but I while I believed it was better and promoted a more active community to allow users to comment from behind a made-up screen name,  I’m thinking now that it only fosters a belief that you can ‘say anything you want’ because no one will know who you are. I think I’ve had one run-in too many with trolls.

My jobs was becoming an almost full-time day of moderating story comments and mediating disputes on what is and isn’t allowed. Maybe it’s burnout that led me to bring up Kiyoshi’s idea in one of our policy meetings. But the more I thought about it, the more excited I got.

Don’t get me wrong, what we’re going to do isn’t a perfect solution. With the ‘Tweet This’ portion, we are sending conversation away from our site. But we are also sending away the headaches that go with it and the drivel that can sometimes negate the integrity of the journalism. The latter is something our publisher has always pointed out regarding comments – the ones who post rumours, the ones who post incorrect facts, the ones who tread the fine line between personal attack and playing by the rules – those kinds of comments, he feels, can drag down a story and therefore our reputation.

As someone who’s been a part of the online world for years, I often dismissed that idea. Commenting is something we should be doing, I said. It should be included with the story and reporters should feel free to communicate in them as well, within the guidelines we set (don’t get into a flame war, stick with the facts, correct misstatements etcetera.) I still feel that we need to foster discussion and continue to be the entity that binds a community together. But as Howard says, we need to be better at doing so. And I don’t think story comments are the way to go anymore.

With ‘Tweet This’ we can potentially pull in a few more of the almighty pageviews because anyone reading a story someone has sent out into the Twitterverse will have to come to our site to read it and then go back to Twitter to discuss it. The drawbacks are that we can’t control the discussion and we can’t guarantee that folks will even bother to use Twitter here in rural America. But the option is there. As far controlling the discussion, we can’t control what people say outside our walls, in the community, in the coffee shops, on the blogs. Why should we control what they say on Twitter? We can (and will) do our best to watch keywords, hashtag discussions and what our followers say, and our staffers on Twitter are approachable and good resources for the community.

Our favourite, and best option to give readers is the link to our daily chat. We have been finding the Cover it Live chat we do to be an incredible resource for us and for the readers. They are loving it and our viewer numbers are growing. One reader said today that she feels like she’s been given a “voice” and has been loyally watching the chat or catching the replays if she missed it. I think that’s spectacular.

The forums and letters to the editor will be the most familiar options for our longtime readers.

Count us among the newspapers choosing not to do commenting at all, because we simply do not have the time, (wo)manpower and patience to do it right.

So this could be really cool, or it could blow up in our faces. How exciting! 🙂

23 Replies to “Ditching comments on stories. It’s time.”

  1. Would it be worth it / doable to outsource comments to Intense Debate or Disqus so at least you'd have some features that would help with identity, rating, moderation issues?

  2. That might be an option we can turn to if this doesn't work. I haven't looked to see if either of those are compatible with the Town News system tho. TN is so ancient. We could probably jerry rig it. But I'm kind of curious to see how this works out.

  3. We use Disqus at our sites and the tools are great but they can't enforce real identities and most users ignore ratings and just flag comments they don't agree with. I do, however, think they are a great solution for many use cases. They also add new features all of the time and take user feedback seriously. I'm not sure if they integrate with TN but if you have HTML-level template control, you shouldn't have a problem adding their tools via javascript.

    1. I really love intensedebate myself, but disqus is good too. As I say, this is kind of an experiment. If we do decide to bring back comments, and if either Disqus or I.D. ever enable the ability to require real names, I'd consider those before reinstalling the crap commenting system included with Town News. But I would like to see howo this works for us.

      I said on another website that mentioned this that we're not discouraging interaction, community or discussion. We're trying to make it valuable both to my newspaper's reputation and to our readers. The daily chat we've been doing for the last 6 or 7 weeks has come out with more valuable info, resources and ideas than years of story commenting has ever done. So along with that, the forums, Twitter and the time-honored letters to the editor, we're offering several ways at the end of every article to discuss it.

    1. Yes it would. I think it's just a chunk of javacript coding we'd put in there that would act more like a retweet when you click it.

  4. I don't disagree for the most part. Howard makes the best point. If we're just allowing comments for the sake of allowing comments, we're just playing catch-up.

    We just went to Disqus at my site, but the Web editors at the local level aren't allowed to touch the comments. If there's a problem comment that's brought to our attention, we have to ask the station management what they want to do and allow them to make the necessary changes.

    This pussy-footing around the issue means nobody has to take ownership of making the comments better. I don't even think I'd feel comfortable asking my reporters to interact with the comments.

    I'm sure others do it this way, but I've really been digging the MinnPost.com model of having people register with their real name. You will likely have far fewer comments, but I believe they will have a higher level of discussion.

    1. That\\'s exactly it Joe. I\\'ve come around to the \\'Quality over quantity\\' ideal when it comes to comments. And if we do indeed return to allowing story comments, I would also prefer requiring real names, no yahoo/gmail/hotmail addresses and full IP visibility to the moderators. I\\'m tired of wasting my time mediating disputes over censorship and freedom of speech from people doing nothing but posting attacks on other commenters or businesses in the community or people the articles are written about. I\\'m tired of spending hours reading the volume of comments before they go live. I want community interaction and discussion of ideas, but I do not want the usual gang of trolls bullying those folks away and that\\'s our main problem here. Hopefully what we\\'re going to try will be the solution that works for this small town paper.

  5. You may have drawn the wrong conclusion from my post. Newspapers that drop comments are hurting themselves more than helping. The thing the newspaper needs to do is hire a full-time community manager, not kill comments. Ask yourself why The Batavian gets tremendous traffic, tremendous comment traffic, but doesn't have an issue with comments? Why can I run this one site largely by myself, do all the news and all the ad sales, and not have the problem with comments that many newspapers have, why it isn't a hassle for me? Comments for me are a joy, not a chore.

  6. "hire a full time community manager" would be totally spiffy if I worked for a company that was fully on board with all of this stuff. But they're just not there yet and when our reporters/copy editors are down to bare bones, it's difficult to ask them to hire someone to manage community stuff. I'm not meaning to say that I'm not down with commenting. I wish we could devote the time and care necessary to cultivate a great community. We just simply cannot with our skeleton staff, and the restrictions dictated by our corporate folk.

    But i guess I mean to say that I'm not against commenting and I would like to bring it back at some point. But our limitations at this time mean that we had to go this route.

  7. I don't think that ditching comments is a very good idea. For me as an example, to post comments and to interact with other regarding some news is the most important because you can share opinions this way. If you take away this option I don't know how the users will react. If you keep high quality content the number might not drop at all, but again, that depends on peoples reaction.

  8. intensedebate is a really nice commenting cms, but it think using something as easy as this one will only attrackt spammers trying to make comments. But commenting is really good to create nice discussions on articles and news. I'm doing it as a daily task!

Comments are closed.