Reader comments: Great debate or heap of trouble?

One of the greatest differences between a traditional broadcast or print story and a story run online is the readers’ ability to comment instantly on breaking news or a hot topic. At the beginning of the multimedia journalism bubble, many news sites were resistant to allowing open discussions on their online stories for fear of the internet “crazies.” Now, all but a few holdouts see the benefit of a free flow of discussion to the local and global communities.

The problem is user comments are sometimes far from civil. Comment-enabled websites sometimes have to deal with overly passionate users insulting each other, foul language, and of course spam comments.

There are a couple of options that keep the comments section less bar talk and civilized conversation:

  • Moderate comments (requires a dedicated staffer which may or may not be in the budget)
  • Necessitate that each comment be reviewed before it is posted (which hinders the immediacy of the conversation)
  • Install a foul language filter like Devowelizer (WordPress)
  • Require registration in order to comment (allows users to be tracked, and if necessary, be blocked)
  • Install a spam blocker like Aksimet (WordPress)

Just one word of advice: DON’T turn the comments off across the board. We’re living in a Web 2.0 world where users expect to be able have their say about your content. Though the challenges of an open discussion may seem daunting, in the end the contribution to the story is well worth it.