Cleaning up comments

Any news organization that really believes in serving the public has to listen to its audience. In the old days, that meant taking phone calls and letters. More recently, it has meant providing email addresses and actually reading the stuff people send in. Now, it means allowing for comments online. But the process of doing that can be messy.

Late last year, the Web site of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News, Philly.com turned off comments because “our comments system sucked,” according to acting VP Mark Potts.

Anytime a newspaper has problems with comments, it doesn’t take long to figure out why: It happens because the site managers allowed anonymity, or they didn’t think to employ a profanity filter, or they didn’t put “report abuse” buttons on the comments to let readers self-police the feature. Fail to do any one of these and you get chaos. Online community managers have known this for years. Newspapers are still learning.

The Philly site now employs a number of best practices for dealing with comments that Potts spells out in detail on his blog.

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