The Comment Discussion Continues: APME Editors Say Comments Are Here to Stay

Screen Shot 2014-07-29 at 1.14.01 PMA writeup that surfaced yesterday from The Spokesman-Review‘s Gary Graham revealed some new perspectives from newspaper editors involved in the Associated Press Media Editors (APME) organization.

Graham is an APME board member and reported some of the following noteworthy results depicting what editors and journalists really think about the often-lambasted comment section. You may be surprised at the results of the Sounding Board survey, which included 101 responses:

  • 94 percent said they “consistently allow comment” sections on their websites. According to Graham, many “believe allowing comments is important to encourage community discussions in a public forum.” Still, some cited complaints such as incivility, off-topic and ill-informed comments, and negativity as reasons comment sections can be frustrating.
  • 71 percent said it is unlikely that they would ever ban online commenting on their websites
  • 11 percent said they would never ban online commenting on their websites
  • Nine percent said it is “very likely” they will ban all comments
  • A few respondents reported that they have taken the time to ban individual commenters who either dominate conversation or are consistently uncivil in the comment section
  • 14 percent said they find a “great deal of value” in their comment section
  • 46 percent of the news organizations that responded allow anonymous comments
  • 38 percent of the news organizations require commenters to identify themselves by first and last name

Based on this one survey, it seems that in general, news editors still see value in comment sections. Although they’re handling reader identities in different ways, the majority don’t plan on getting rid of the sound-off space, despite all its problems. Still, we’d be silly not to acknowledge the ongoing questions surrounding comment sections — including how to moderate comments in shrinking newsrooms and how to encourage community and civility.

As a writer on the Internet, I’ve been subjected to the negative opinions of uncivil, unintelligent, emotionally-charged commenters. Like so many other writers, I take the criticism, no matter how unfounded the logic or incompetent the speech, at times. On the other hand, I’ve had the chance to ask myself important questions and better my own thought processes and writing through helpful comments. It’s not time to give up on the comment section yet.

I think we run into a real problem whenever “the nasty effect,” as two University of Wisconsin-Madison science professors call it, significantly detracts from the reader’s experience or dramatically changes the reader’s interpretation of a news story. I wrote some thoughts on this about a year ago, and our Karen Fratti has, too. Tell us what you think @10000Words or in — wait for it — the comment section below.