Ed­i­tors, you should mod­er­ate com­ments. Here are tips.

Newspapers & Technology Magazine - - Industry Mergers & Acquisitions - ▶ SPE­CIAL TO NEWS & TECH FROM PENNY RIOR­DAN, GATE­HOUSE ME­DIA p

If you ask ed­i­tors in a news­room what one of their big­gest is­sues is, chances are on­line com­ments would be to­ward the top of the list.

Be­tween a Face­book page and a news­pa­per.com site, read­ers can leave hun­dreds of com­ments a day. And mod­er­at­ing them can take time. The com­ments them­selves can also de­scend into name call­ing or un­nec­es­sary po­lit­i­cal de­bates.

A lot of news web­site have aban­doned com­ments al­to­gether, with the most re­cent high-pro­file or­ga­ni­za­tion be­ing NPR. With many in the in­dus­try mov­ing on, why keep us­ing com­ments on your web­site? Is it worth your time?

While com­ments may take up valu­able time to mod­er­ate in a news­room, stud­ies have shown that com­menters are more civil to each other when a staff per­son is mod­er­at­ing and re­spond­ing.

One study from the En­gag­ing News Project found that un­civil com­ments were re­duced when the TV sta­tion par­tic­i­pat­ing in the study had ei­ther a reporter or an­other staff mem­ber re­spond.

An even larger study con­ducted by ENP and the Co­ral Project in­volv­ing 20 news­rooms found that a ma­jor­ity of read­ers wanted things like ques­tions an­swered or fac­tual points clar­i­fied.

At Gate­House Me­dia, we still have com­ment sec­tions on our web­sites and en­cour­age ed­i­tors to mod­er­ate them.

Here is some ad­vice for ed­i­tors who spend time in­ter­act­ing with read­ers in the com­ment sec­tion:

Kent Bush, pub­lisher of the Shawnee News-Star, wrote in an email that mod­er­at­ing com­ments can re­duce the num­ber of com­ments re­ceived, but what com­ments are posted tend to be more re­spect­ful.

Bush re­moves com­ments from the Face­book page when posters re­sort to name call­ing, threats or make false state­ments. He also will mes­sage a poster pri­vately to ex­plain why a com­ment is re­moved.

Alan Shaw, the an­a­lyt­ics and en­gage­ment lead pro­ducer for the Sara- sota Her­ald-Tri­bune, tries to re­spond to all le­git­i­mate ques­tions, or loop in a reporter to an­swer them. He has also found that tem­po­rary bans are an ef­fec­tive way to let posters cool down a bit. “Some of those we’ve banned com­plain that I’m ruin­ing the com­ments, but my goal is to make it a more civil place where peo­ple can weigh in with­out fear of be­ing at­tacked,” Shaw wrote in an email. An ex­am­ple where Shaw re­sponded to a ques­tion from a reader in the com­ments in­volved a fa­tal ac­ci­dent. The reader used the com­ments to ask about de­tails of the ac­ci­dent, as it was a rel­a­tive who was killed.

Ron Sylvester, the edi­tor of the Hutchin­son News, wrote in an email that he also tries to re­spond when read­ers make state­ments about a news story that are in­ac­cu­rate, or if they gos­sip about the pub­li­ca­tion. If our read­ers ask us ques­tions in the com­ments and we don’t re­spond, what does that say about our re­la­tion­ship with our read­ers? Com­ments on the site is the one place that be­longs to the read­ers. And if they are ask­ing ques­tions or of­fer­ing sug­ges­tions, it’s im­por­tant to re­spond to them. He also fol­lows the same ad­vice he does for writ­ing sto­ries: Just like any other form of writ­ing, don’t post the first thing that comes to mind. Re­vise it. Sched­ule it for later, if you need to, so you have time to make more re­vi­sions later,” Sylvester wrote.

If you’re over­whelmed with how to mod­er­ate, keep a few ba­sic rules in mind: Pro­mote the good

Ban or delete the bad

Ig­nore the rest

The most im­por­tant thing you can do in com­ment mod­er­a­tion is to let your com­mu­nity of read­ers know that you are watch­ing and that you care about what they have to say.

Penny Rior­dan man­ages dig­i­tal au­di­ence en­gage­ment for Gate­House. She works out of the Cen­ter for News and De­sign in Austin.

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