Fixing commenting, the sweaty mosh pit of news sites
The solution is in moderating — not limiting — comments. In a few months, The Post will implement a system that should help. It’s still being developed, but Straus said the broad outlines envision commenters being assigned to different “tiers” based on their past behavior and other factors. Those with a track record of staying within the guidelines, and those providing their real names, will likely be considered “trusted commenters.” Repeat violators or discourteous agitators will be grouped elsewhere or blocked outright. Comments of first-timers will be screened by a human being.
When visitors click to read story comments, only those from the “trusted” group will appear. If they want to see inflammatory or off-topic comments from “trolls,” they’ll need to click to access a different “tier.”
True/Slant launched nearly a year ago, and from the get-go we deployed a managed commenting system that enables T/S contributors to elevate user comments that move a conversation forward. The entire comment string for any post sits behind an “All Comments” tab, or as we like to say, one level below. How do user comments get “Called Out?” It’s the job of each T/S contributor to do so as they monitor their individual communities. It’s also the job of contributors to respond to user comments, just as Michael Pollaro did so effectively on his Obamacare post.
Just as important, all our T/S contributors have free reign to comment on the posts of all their fellow contributors — and they do so with fervor. On any given post, you can find contributors talking with users, contributors talking with other contributors and even contributors talking with users from communities other then their own. Caitlin Kelly’s post on Why Men Blog More is a perfect example.
This multi-tiered conversation is evolving into what I like to call a new story-building construct. It is often far more engaging and information packed than traditional media formats — and for that matter other online formats. Check out what happened when Matt Taibbi asked his community what they were reading and what he should write about. Nearly half the comments to his post included links to other stories.
Quite often I’ll get asked, “Why are the conversations on True/Slant so interesting? Why are they so civil?” I just point to our managed commenting system.
Over the past year, I’ve met with many reporters and editors at traditional media companies who balk at the perceived “work” involved in approving comments and actually engaging with readers or viewers. My response is always the same. The role of reporting and and editing is changing. You must become part of the fabric of your community. Engaging with user comments enables you to do just that. I finish by saying, “Sitting above it all will no longer work.”
As True/Slant evolves we’ll be adding technology to our managed commenting system that automatically elevates the comments of our most engaged users. But the active participation of our T/S contributors in “Calling Out” comments will always remain the hallmark of the system.
I look forward to the roll out of The Washington Post comment mechanism. I do hope there will be a role for reporters and editors. That way they can stop sitting above it all.