Civil comments for news websites
Starting date – May 2011 | Status – in progress | Follow our blog for this project!
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Growing number of news websites’ user comments are ugly, out of control, anonymous… Find a solution
The Digital News Test Kitchen is conducting a research-and-ideation project (lead researcher: CU Journalism & Mass Communications graduate student Anthony Collebrusco) in collaboration with the Greeley Tribune and its parent company, Swift Communications (Reno, Nevada).
Got a question for Anthony Collebrusco about this project, or news-website user comments? You can use VYou.com to send him one, and he’ll answer with a short video…
The project is focusing, specifically, on identifying solutions to out-of-control, uncivil, and worse user comments on news articles at the website of the Greeley Tribune and other newspaper websites of Swift Communications, which shut down user commenting in April 2011, with the intent of later reintroducing the feature with better techniques and technology for providing a more “civil” user-commenting experience. However, the research, analysis, and recommendations provided to Swift and its newsrooms will be public — and applicable to most any news website that is having trouble with dysfunctional user-commenting communities, and is seeking solutions.
The Test Kitchen is hardly the only organization seeking solutions to unruly user-comment threads on news articles online. The situation is so bad at a growing number of news organizations’ websites that reporters and editors report resistance by sources in being quoted for stories; they fear getting “beat up” and criticized by anonymous commenters online after publication. This is especially the case when story topics are controversial. This project aims to research and report on solutions that have been proven to improve the “comment culture” at news sites, develop new ideas to help lessen the problem, and make recommendations on techniques and technologies to deploy to help solve the problem.
Because of the financial crisis at many news organizations, including the loss of significant numbers of journalists from newsrooms in recent years due to the recent recession and the impact on news companies’ financial state due to the digital-media transition, the manpower to monitor and moderate hundreds or even thousands of daily user comments often is not available. Further, over-burdened reporters and writers often do not feel compelled to participate in comment threads attached to their own work; this results in commenters left with no or little guidance or supervision, and thus conversations can easily turn nasty, racist, and sometimes dangerous. Also, many news websites continue to permit commenters to remain anonymous, which seems to encourage from some people the worst in how they express themselves. With newsroom constraints in mind, the project researchers aim to recommend techniques and technologies that news companies can deploy to improve the user-comment culture on news websites which are cost-effective and fit within limited budgets.
The project was begun in spring 2011 and the initial phase is expected to last through summer 2011. We expect to issue recommendations by the end of the summer 2011, and will release them to our partners (the Greeley Tribune and Swift Communications), as well as publish them for all news publishers to take advantage of and study. Longer term, the researchers will follow GreeleyTribune.com as it reopens its user comment feature, and do text- and content-analysis of comments published prior to the new recommendations and commenting technology being deployed. These will be compared to a text- and content-analysis of user comments from GreeleyTribune.com published prior to the news site shutting off user commenting in April 2011.
Researchers are tackling this project in several ways:
- Conducting research of existing solutions (techniques and technology) to make news-website user comments more “civil” and less ugly
- Ideation of new techniques for journalists to better control or moderate comment threads
- Analyzing and comparing commenting solutions and technology, including analysis of third-party commenting systems available to bloggers and news websites
- Analyzing past comment threads from our partner, GreeleyTribune.com, to identify troubling trends that could benefit from new solutions; and, after new techniques and technologies are deployed at GreeleyTribune.com, comparing the tone and nature of those comments to those published online prior to the new system being put in place
Do you have ideas for improving this project? Please leave your suggestions and feedback in the comments area below. Thanks!
Can you help fund this project? Please refer to our Giving page.