Saturday, July 16, 2011

Comments on News Stories: Should the Outlets Have Responsibilities?

If you read the comments section of a news story, chances are you you will come across heated exchanges between commenters or abusive remarks about the subject of the story. Some of these people are passionately political, some appear to merely comment to antagonize.

I read a lot of comments sections from a lot of news articles and no representatives from the company seem to respond. Is this a problem? Should news companies moderate their stories to reduce abuse of other commenters and spam? Should news stories contribute to the conversation and respond to commenters' claims of biased research?

News outlets seem to publish the stories and then leave them alone and, perhaps this is a good thing. If they moderate (respond to, delete or edit) comments, commenters affected could interpret this as censorship. An attempt to keep allegations of unethical journalism quiet. Changing comments essentially means tailoring the discourse. Not only will that hurt the outlet's relationship with the affected commenters, but it will diminish the wonderful qualities of social medias: a loud voice for citizens and interaction between the people and "the man." -- Do people use that phrase anymore?

I don't know if broad social or journalistic change has ever come about because of a comment or comments on a news story, but the conversation about the news story has certainly influenced how I read the news. So many commenters pose questions about the reporter's research methodology, about the unanswered questions. Questions I hadn't asked when I first read the article, but looked back and realized what was missing. Comments have power. But only if people read them. 

Do you read comments on news stories or blogs? Do you see the value of reading these comments? Have you commented and what was your experience afterward? Do you think news outlets or bloggers have any responsibilities regarding comments submitted to their stories? To bloggers: do you moderate your comments?

Stop by my Twitter chat on Monday night from 9 pm to 10 pm EST to discuss these questions and how they should impact our moderating decisions as bloggers. The hashtag will be #beyond comments Everyone is welcome! Again, my Twitter name is @cartooninperson If you can't make the chat, but have something to say, please feel free to drop a comment here on my blog or on the Beyond Passing Time Facebook Page.

For those new on Twitter or new to Twitter chats, simply type #beyondcomments in your Tweets and anyone who types #beyondcomments in the search field will see them. If you search #beyond comments, you will see the discussion. All Tweets will show up live, so you don't need to refresh your page. Please feel free to comment here or email me at if you don't understand or would like more information.

I will see you there! Please spread the word!


  1. I do read the comments in news articles. I used to read the Politico comments and be absolutely astounded by what some people would write. The Gawker comments are always awesome.

  2. great topic...i only read news article comments IF someone brings one to my attention. sereral times i have been asked to leave a positive comment on a story receiving appalling comments. i have been astounded each time by the negative comments people have left.

    i don't moderate my blog comments but read each and every one. in turn, i always visit the wonderful people who leave kind comments.

    i don't use twitter!!

  3. I think to understand many news stories one has to understand who owns the news source, and what is their stake in which stories receive emphasis and what is the slant of the story? Then there is the issue of whether its really a news story at all or whether its an 'infomercial' disguised as the news.

    I suppose people still use the expression, 'the man', but I refer to The 'Corporation'. The veiled and seemingly patriotic concerns of many politicians here often makes for legislative stalemates and stand-offs. But it may not be the welfare of the people that is at stake at all, but rather the welfare of the corporations with heavy investment in which way Capitol Hill swings.

    Word verification here: 'raphyped' appropriate!

  4. Interesting topic Ashley. I tend to only scan comments of news stories precisely because the authors are seldom involved in the conversation. When the people featured in the article take the time to monitor comments and engage, then I become interested. I want balanced conversation.

    I always read and respond to comments to my blog. If I'm crowdsourcing ideas, then at the very least I need to thank the contributors.

  5. i've only stopped to read commentary on news articles in a few pieces in my local paper. yes, they get terribly heated and judgemental, and i believe in the case of victims' families reading them, can be extremely hurtful. i have left a few comments on news articles, but only positive atta-boys or sympathy for a tragic occurrence...

  6. theTsaritsa - Yes, it is shocking! People get courageous behind a screen when someone argues something they disagree with. One is tempted to pipe in "Get a life!"

    Debbie - Many people who comment don't do so rationally or respectfully -- I know, some community, eh! Thanks for reading and responding!

    Mythopolis - I agree that understanding bias and motivations of news source is important.

    Colleen - Welcome to my blog! Interesting! It's kind of insulting to readers when the authors don't respond to comments, isn't it?

    Tex - Welcome to my blog! I hadn't thought of the potential impact of the comments on the people involved in the articles. It would be very painful, I'm sure. People can be so cruel.