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Mediating Conflict: Blogging and the curse of comments

An interesting look at blogging journalists and their relationship with commenters by Mediating Conflict, following BBC cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew’s comments on Twitter that he stopped his BBC blog because of the comments left on it.

There seems to be something of a backlash against the value of comments on blogs at the BBC. Or perhaps it might be more accurate to say that existing reservations about comments on blogs are beginning to surface.

Only last month, the BBC’s political editor, Nick Robinson, described them as “the biggest problem” with his Newslog blog.

Now cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew has revealed he stopped blogging at the BBC because his posts were “always full of appalling comments“. Agnew now publishes a column on the BBC website instead and says he simply wouldn’t write a blog open to comments any more – “even with moderation in place“.

Full post on Mediating Conflict at this link…

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Guardian reprimanded by readers for comments on Cumbria shootings liveblog

June 2nd, 2010 | No Comments | Posted by in Online Journalism

Commenters on Guardian.co.uk’s liveblog covering the shootings in Whitehaven today challenged the site over its decision to publish comments on the blow-by-blow coverage.

The liveblog, a format which has been used to good effect by the Guardian previously, particularly for its G20 coverage and Andrew Sparrow’s election coverage, has been aggregating news coverage of the events as they unfold and updating with police information and eyewitness statements.

But commenters have taken the site to task for leaving the blog open to readers and asking for comments and information to be posted in the comments section:

I think having a comment section on this is pretty ghoulish and in bad-taste (…) Best just to let the truth come out properly instead of this rolling, almost certainly erroneous way of doing things.

Yes, as earlier commenters have said, please switch the comments off. It is legitimate – and might even help save lives – for the media to seek minute-by-minute updates from people there and quickly broadcast any information that is relevant. But it does not have to be public.

Fortunately, and to the site’s credit, editor Janine Gibson stepped in with this comment:

There are very good technical reasons to cover a fast unfolding story in this way, which are nothing to do with turning into Fox News but are to do with speed of publishing and being able to correct things quickly.

However, we’ve discussed it and think the bulk of commenters are correct, it’s not a particularly useful way to source information on a story such as this, so we will turn the comments off.

Thanks to those who raised it constructively.

(Hat tip – @jonslattery)

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Shane Richmond: The value of reader comments to online newspapers

April 23rd, 2010 | 3 Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Online Journalism

Telegraph Media Group’s head of technology Shane Richmond weighs in on a debate about the value of comments left by readers on newspaper websites.

Journalism professor Jeff Jarvis recently suggested a turnaround in his view on reader comments: “I defended [newspaper] comments for years. But the problem is that comments are too often the voice of assholes.” He added in a blog post: “[C]omments are an insult because they come only after media think they’re done creating a product, which they then allow the public to react to.”

This prompted a response from Ilana Fox, who ran online communities for the Sun and Mail Online, disagreeing with Jarvis and arguing that the majority of people interacting with newspapers online aren’t “assholes” at all.

Richmond says both are right – his post is worth reading in full – and makes a particular point about the effect of journalists’ involvement in comment threads:

Jeff makes the point that inviting readers in after the fact is disrespectful, which is what leads to the unconstructive nature of much commenting. But I’ve noticed that engagement by journalists breeds a culture of respect. If journalists join the conversation, they are more likely to be respected by readers.

I don’t think the “true collaboration” that Jeff would like to see is a replacement for commenting. Many people are happy to comment and don’t want to do more. True collaboration builds on the work we’ve done so far. And it is a goal that many of us are working towards.

Full post at this link…

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Nieman Journalism Lab: Barriers to entry can improve quality and quantity of reader comments, says Gawker

In 2009, blog network Gawker Media introduced a new, stricter commenting system in an attempt to free the site from certain readers who were dominating comment threads. Nieman Journalism Lab has the full rundown of how the system now works, which includes trusted commenters having greater access to discussions and most recent comments placed at the top rather than bottom of threads to steer discussion.

“We’ll be able to encourage the kind of discussion that *we* want – not one that is dominated merely by the most prolific of our commenters. It’s our party; we get to decide who comes,” wrote founder Nick Denton at the time.

A graph on the blog of Gawker Media chief technology officer Tom Plunkett shows an initial dip in comment volume when the changes were first made, followed by a steep incline:

Though there were some calls to do so, purging commenter accounts is not a solution for the out-of-control commenter community. Nor is a large moderation staff. We believe pruning, and a commenting platform as we have implemented, will lead to increased participation, while at the same time encouraging quality. This data, and the subjective opinion of many, seem to back this assertion.

Full Nieman Journalism Lab report at this link…

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NYT: News sites reconsider allowing anonymous comments

New York Times technology reporter Richard Pérez-Peña examines the problem of anonymous comments being widely permitted on news sites. With the Huffington Post and the Wall Street Journal announcing plans to revise their comment systems, will other mainstream news organisations begin to reconsider this well-established policy?

No one doubts that there is a legitimate value in letting people express opinions that may get them in trouble at work, or may even offend their neighbours, without having to give their names, said William Grueskin, dean of academic affairs at Columbia’s journalism school.

“But a lot of comment boards turn into the equivalent of a bar room brawl, with most of the participants having blood-alcohol levels of 0.10 or higher,” he said. “People who might have something useful to say are less willing to participate in boards where the tomatoes are being thrown.”

Full story at this link…

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STL Social Media Guy: Web comment on newspaper site loses man his job

A ‘vulgar’ comment from a man on the St Louis-Post’s Dispatch website, STLtoday.com, resulted in him resigning from his job.

Kurt Greenbaum, online news director and director of social media at the paper, explains how he twice deleted the comment.

“[I then] noticed in the WordPress e-mail that his comment had come from an IP address at a local school. So I called the school. They were happy to have me forward the e-mail, though I wasn’t sure what they’d be able to do with the meager information it included,” explains Greenbaum.

“About six hours later, I heard from the school’s headmaster. The school’s IT director took a shine to the challenge. Long story short: Using the time-frame of the comments, our website location and the IP addresses in the WordPress e-mail, he tracked it back to a specific computer. The headmaster confronted the employee, who resigned on the spot.”

Full post at this link…

But as the site Awful Marketing asks, is this a violation of trust or a newspaper’s privacy policy?

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Malcolm Coles: Gordon Brown letter – Sun misjudges readers’ mood

November 12th, 2009 | 3 Comments | Posted by in Comment

This is a cross-post from Malcolm Coles’ website www.malcolmcoles.co.uk.

Update: There are suggestions on a Guardian story that the Sun moderators haven’t been putting through comments that are critical of the Sun’s position …

Is the Sun censoring pro-Brown comments?

Is the Sun censoring pro-Brown comments?

Original post
The Sun is running a campaign against Gordon Brown. But I’ve analysed the comments on its website – and readers disagree with its stance by a ratio of more than 3 to 2.

Gordon Brown letter story in the Sun

Gordon Brown letter story in the Sun

The paper has exploited the grief of Jacqui Janes over her son Jamie’s death in Afghanistan to attack the PM – because his handwritten letter of condolence was supposedly disrespectful due to sloppy writing and (disputed) spelling errors.

It’s loathsome journalism that ignores the effect of his disability (the PM is blind in one eye).

And it seems Sun readers are mostly on the Prime Minister’s side.

Of the 100+ comments on the story (don’t worry, I’ve nofollowed those links) when I checked, 111 expressed a view for or against Jacqui Janes or Gordon Brown (the rest commented on other issues or corrected people’s spelling errors). Of these:

  • 42 were anti Gordon or pro the Sun’s stance.
  • 69 were pro Gordon or anti the Sun’s stance.

So that’s more than 60 per cent who don’t agree with the Sun, and less than 40 per cent who do.

Sample comments from those who agree with the Sun’s stance:

Comments agreeing that Gordon Brown was wrong

Comments agreeing that Gordon Brown is “discusting”

Some comments from those opposing it:

Comments defending Gordon Brown

Comments defending Gordon Brown

Conclusion
The Sun is channeling this woman’s grief into a personal attack on the Prime Minister.

It’s refusing to make allowances for his disability (maybe we could next attack the war wounded for being workshy benefit scroungers?).

And it’s facilitating her breaking data protection laws by releasing a recording of a private phone call.

The whole thing is sickening – let’s hope that observing its readers’ reactions will lead to an end to this (not that this happened in the Jan Moir case) – and preferably prosecution of the Sun over the data protection offence.

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Testing times for Mail Online’s comment system

The introduction of a rating system for comments on articles on the Daily Mail’s website back in December last year was a bold move for a site that often publishes highly controversial (or certainly comment-provoking) articles.

Comments on the site can be removed by the editorial team if necessary, but the aim of the system is that users will act as moderators, flagging up inappropriate content.

One particular story last weekend tested its mettle: the report on the death of a man in the back of a lorry in the channel tunnel.

The article in question provoked a spate of offensive and abusive comments (as shown in this screengrab captured by FiveChineseCrackers.com).

As Mail Watch points out in a post on the matter: “If these are the highest rated, and thus most visible, comments, how does that reflect upon the ‘controls’ and ‘processes’ used by Mail Online to prevent ‘inappropriate content’ appearing?”

By Monday afternoon the comments referred to had been removed from the piece. At time of writing this blog post, only two comments appeared on the article and additional comments are no longer being accepted:

Mail Online comments on migrant death article

As Mail Online’s terms and conditions page states, the site is not liable for third party content including comments posted by users.

And the site’s own House Rules suggest that pre-moderation of comments is not always the case:

“Reader comments that violate the letter or spirit of these rules or our Terms may be removed (or, if checked in advance, not published in the first place). If we do remove something, we will generally remove whole posts, or where necessary, whole threads (not parts). This means that even if only one sentence is objectionable, the whole comment will usually be removed (or not published).”

In this case, however, the screengrab clearly states above the offensive comments: “The comments below have been moderated in advance.”

Asking how such incidents affect the Mail’s attitude to commenting, a spokesman told Journalism.co.uk:

“As regards the Channel Tunnel story, several inappropriate comments were posted until they were rightly flagged up through the ‘report abuse’ facility when we immediately took them down. This shows our system is working as it was designed.

“The comments facility is a much-loved part of Mail Online and phenomenally popular.

“To enable as many people as possible to have their say the vast majority of our comments are now not moderated in advance. This presents a new challenge for us and our readers but we are happy the system is working well.”

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Comment Central: New commenting system for Times Online

The Times has introduced a new commenting system for its website lifting the upper word limit for comments from 300 to 2,000 and introducing a registration system.

“This will enable us to highlight and reward our best commenters, and weed out our least constructive,” writes online editor, Tom Whitwell – though no fixed reward system is mentioned, as yet.

Commenting systems differ between the paper’s blogs and the rest of its editorial content, but there are plans to switch the blogs over to the new platform.

Full post at this link…

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BeatBlogging.Org: Editors are not liable for changing comments

January 29th, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Legal

Video of the Citizen Media Project’s David Ardia explaining why – under US law – editors are not legally liable for changing comments left on their news sites.

As Pat Thornton points out:

“This falsehood must stop now. It’s been used — knowingly and unknowingly — by news organizations for years as  justification not to allow user comments.”

Full story at this link…

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