A Better Way to Manage News Comments

Howard Owns has a great post on
Eight
historical mistakes the newspaper industry made where he goes over
newspaper’s slow adoption of blogging, online communities, leveraging local
blogger’s talents, winning the car and real estate market, and becoming better
community resources with online calendars.

His comments on the early attempts at forming online communities raises an
interesting point about why newspapers may be behind in this game today:

It was a mistake to view content as something we do and audiences
read, take it or leave it. Fear kept newsrooms from allowing comments on stories
for years — fear of the “graffiti on the bathroom wall” effect. Newspapers tried
forums, found they quickly devolved into ghettos of banality, spam and hate, so
they shut them down. But forum failure wasn’t the fault of the community or the
software. It was the fault of management for its lack of
management.

Tech companies created online community solutions
relatively early, which allowed for integration of online communities. However,
the problem wasn’t as much the technology as the management of the technology
which led to issues.

This isn’t to say that it’s an EASY thing to do, but moderation is absolutely
key to creating a community that flourishes (online or off). Take a look at most
professional blogs and you’ll find lively professional discussions in the
comments rather than nasty insults, spam, or over the top self-promotion. That’s
because professionals understand the importance of building a strong community.
If you don’t, you’ll lose the best contributors since they won’t put up with the
crap.

Washington Post Technorati Integration
For those who don’t want to invest in proper moderation of things like
discussion boards or comments, a compromise solution that works very well is
trackbacks. Rather than allowing people to contribute to your site’s articles
directly, give them credit for the comments they make about your articles on
their own blogs. The quality of comments goes up tremendously in this situation
since people are more accountable for their writing. Rather than leaving
drive-by snarky comments, they’re writing for their regular audience and for the
audience interested in the story on your news site (or blog).

Two popular bloggers who’ve taken this approach are
Seth Godin and
Marc Andreessen.
Both writers receive more viewers per article than all but the top newspapers in
the country, so comment moderation could be a chore to maintain. By switching to
trackbacks, they and their readers can follow their reader’s opinions on their
reader’s own blogs.

Are any newspapers doing this today? Very few, as far as I can tell. One of the
first to do so was the
Washington
Post
, who uses
Technorati to track
who’s linking to their articles. For example,
this
article on YouTube and politics
has 36 (now 37) links to it as of this
writing. So after reading the article, a reader could click out to 37
independent editorials related to this story.

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