As part of its Talking Shop series, editors, moderators and Comment is Free users are debating how moderation should be handled and what could improve the quality of comments and debate on news websites. More than 500 comments on the debate so far flag some interesting suggestions from readers on how moderation should be handled – a useful read for anyone working on a moderation and interaction policy for their site.
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.
The Mail will now rely on users to flag up unsuitable comments. It will continue to use an automatic filter to pick up inappropriate language, but will only review comments if reported by readers.
The title says it hopes more comments will be published as a result.
But advertisers and moderation experts have raised concerns about the move.
Part one in the BBC Internet Blog’s guide to moderation, the law and ‘censorship’ online. Part two will look at contempt of court.
Publishers using user-generated content (UGC) are not simply going for the cheap option, Neil McIntosh, head of editorial development at Guardian.co.uk, told the audience at last night’s New Media Knowledge (NMK) ‘What happens to newspapers?’ event.
McIntosh was responding to suggestions made by the National Union of Journalists’ (NUJ) Tim Gopsill that publishers were using more UGC to reduce costs.
“UGC is not cheap. It’s many things, but it’s not cheap. It’s extremely expensive to nurture it and to make it something worthwhile. My heart sinks when I hear the union saying that journalists are going to be replaced with UGC,” said McIntosh.
Costs of publishing UGC, such as photos and comments, rapidly and training staff to moderate and contribute to discussions online are often overlooked in the debate over whether publishers should be using it, he added.
Speaking specifically about the Guardian’s new belief channel on its Comment is Free (CiF) platform, McIntosh said that without proper moderation and nurturing, the paper ‘might as well be lighting the blue touch paper and running’.
When interacting with UGC, in particular comments, blog posts and CiF submissions, it is about ‘encouraging journalists to write the kind of things that kickstart a debate in the right direction’, he said.
The site suspended the comments last month because of abusive posters, according to How-Do, but is now urging readers to contribute to the site’s forums.
A welcome post from David Crookes, part of the internet operations team at the paper, said the move would ‘bring reader reaction together in one place’.
“The changes have been made because of a minority of people who have insisted on spoiling our previous comment facilities,” wrote Crookes.
“That will leave the majority free to discuss topics, safe in the knowledge that their opinions will be respected.”
Anyone posting offensive or abusive messages will be immediately banned from the site, with persistent offenders reported to Internet Service Providers, Crookes added.
Journalism.co.uk talks to journalists across the globe about social media and how they see it changing their industry.
1. Who are you and what do you do?
Vicky Taylor, editor of Interactivity for BBC News. I run the team which produces the Have Your Say section of the website and the UGC hub which takes all the fantastic content the public send us and passes it on to all other BBC programmes and sites – internationally and in UK.
2. Which web or mobile-based social media tools do you use on a daily basis and why?
Apart from Have You Say on BBC news website (on my pc but also on my phone as read only) I get news email alerts on my phone and on my PC about upcoming BBC programmes.
I’m also on Facebook, but use that mainly to contact old friends now in Australia (not from BBC of course), and LinkedIn, which is more useful for business contacts.
Your net worth is your network as the guy who set it up said recently! I started off using del.icio.us to bookmark interesting articles but never have enough time to do it justice. As a team we look at Youtube, Shozu, Seesmic, MySpace and some team members are on twitter so we monitor that too.
3. Of the thousands social media tools available could you single one out as having the most potential for news, either as a publishing or newsgathering tool?
Facebook has been fantastically helpful to our team in finding people with specialist interest.
When the Burma uprising was happening, a colleague found the Friends of Burma group and through them got in touch with many who had recently left the country and had amazing tales to tell.
Journalists now have to know how to seek out information and contact from all sorts of sources and social network sites are key to this.
4. And the most overrated?
I wouldn’t pick out one as overrated as they all have different uses for different audiences. I think though you have to be fairly selective, as keeping across all the sites and emails you may get if you go into everything is just not possible and dilutes the value of the really good ones.
Simon Bucks, associate editor for Sky News, has apologised on Sky’s Editors’ Blog to users who have had their access to the site’s message boards blocked by spammers.
“It’s an anti-spamming device but it worked in a way we hadn’t expected,” Bucks wrote in a post on Tuesday.
“It was a mistake on our part… Contrary to some views, we do care about the forums and we invest a lot in making them run properly.”
Bucks defended the ‘light moderation’ approach adopted by the site – e.g. moderating comments after they have appeared – saying it produces more of ‘a free-flowing conversation, as long as you keep to the rules.’
The Guardian has removed a video from its website showing a suicide bomb attack in Israel after more than 550 complaints were made about the footage.
The piece, which was selected from a package of footage and text supplied to the paper by Reuters, showed the wounded being taken to hospital, as well as statements from the Palestinian agriculture minister and a Hamas spokesman. It was removed four days after being posted to the site.
Writing about the decision to remove the video from the site, Siobhain Butterworth, readers’ editor, says most traffic to the video came from the site Honest Reporting, which criticised the lack of an Israeli spokesperson in the footage.
In response Butterworth points out that at the time no Israeli sources featured in the Reuters package.
She also directs complainants, readers and Honest Reporting to the paper’s other online coverage of the event:
“Honest Reporting linked only to the video; it ignored the rest of the Guardian’s coverage. It didn’t mention that the story published on the day of the bombing (and which the video accompanied) began with comments from the Israeli prime minister and included statements from an eyewitness, a doctor at the scene and a police spokesman. Stories about the event in the following days also included statements from Israeli sources.”
However, with regards to the video in question, Butterworth admits there was ‘an editing error’, which may have lead to a perceived Palestinian bias. While this was the reason the piece was removed, this was not ‘a deliberate attempt to give a one-sided response to the event’, she adds.
The Chicago Tribune explains why it has shut down comment boards on its web site for all political news stories.