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I have read 301 comments posted in response to my Sunday column about our new commenting system. And the number keeps rising, which I consider a good sign. Reader engagement remains a key ingredient for any newspaper and its website.
Many of the comments are thoughtful, argumentative, informative, satirical and very critical. I'm OK with that. In fact, I appreciate the blunt feedback.
Colleague Mike McGarr did an excellent job last night, in my view, of responding to quite a number of comments in helpful ways. He was doing that, by the way, along with his other duties of editing stories, writing headlines, reading page proofs and updating breaking news stories.
Several of the commenters suggested we recruit volunteer moderators or hire someone to just monitor the comments. My experience in business and in life is that you get what you pay for, so I am not inclined to recruit volunteers to monitor our comments 24/7. As for paying someone new to do it, that's part of the issue. If I had money in the newsroom budget, I would want to use it to hire another reporter to help us gather more news and information.
Our new comments policy goes into effect today. Please give it some time to play out. In the meantime, I intend to move my part of the conversation to this blog, where I can more easily post what we're learning about our new system. I also believe writing about the comments in a blog format will make it easier for readers to offer us new thoughts on what we're doing.
Brian Boyer (@brianboyer) of NPR posted this interesting link about how the WSJ handles comments on one of their pages.
Suuuuper clever way to do comments in this WSJ project. Scroll down, on the right. http://t.co/syb8mjPgCb— Brian Boyer (@brianboyer) November 20, 2013
Here's a screenshot of what they're doing on that page:
There are a few things going for this method:
1) It pushes the comments off of the story, preventing the comments section from detracting from the actual story. At the Spokesman, we have more trolls than Khazad-dûm, so this is one way to keep their bile from polluting and coloring stories that are otherwise quite neutral and peaceful.
2) Instead of a free-for-all comments section, they've directed the discussion by asking a relevant, interesting question. Your vitriol is not welcome, trolls.
3) They encourage intelligent discussion by highlighting decent, humane comments that were written intelligently. You can dissent and you can have your opinion, but you can also speak like a reasonable person.
Do you have any thoughts about the WSJ's solution here? Thoughts about how the Spokesman could better handle our comments sections?