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:
- Howard Owens: If you’re not doing comments right, you shouldn’t do them at all
- Kiyoshi Martinez: Comments, content creation and creating value
- Xark!: Why comments suck (& ideas on un-sucking them)
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! 🙂