Don’t Feed the Trolls! On-line Comments Challenge Newspapers

If you have ever read the comments section of online newspapers, you know that it’s not always a place for civil discourse. In fact, it many ways it has become the stomping ground for online trolls.

That’s why more and more newspapers are either shutting down their online comments section and re-imagining how to manage them. The Colorado Independent’s Corey Hutchens wrote about this recently for the Columbia Journalism Review. He told KGNU’s Maeve Conran about what these online comments mean for newspapers.

“It’s causing them a pretty big headache and it’s causing quite a debate about how to best engage with readers.”

Hutchens says engagement is the current industry buzz word for newspapers, particularly local newspapers. “In the old days when profit margins were high, when newspapers were doing well, it seemed fine to just publish a newspaper, accept some letters to the editor and believe that people just read the paper, subscribed and bought advertisement.”

After the bottom fell out of that business model, newspapers started to look for other ways to connect with readers.  “There is a movement to be more than just a newspaper, it’s to actually physically engage with the audience.”   One way that newspapers are doing this is through the comments section in the on-line version of the paper. However this presents a challenge for many newsrooms, particularly smaller ones with limited resources, as it can take a lot of time to moderate online comments.  The Daily Camera in Boulder shut off their on-line comments section last year.  The Denver Post is trying a new method to moderate on-line comments.  They were spending up to 20 hours a week moderating on-line comments. They have switched to a type of peer managed comment management program called Civil Comments.