25 August 2008

Chicago Sites Share User Comments Strategies

How online news sites handle comments from users formed the focal point of a recent panel discussion.

And offering examples from their own working practices were representatives from the non-profit ChiTownDailyNews.org and from the Chicago Tribune.

Professor Jane Singer was one of the attendees at the forum (details at the end) and here’s her summary of the main points:


“In a session during the convention, a ChicagoTribune.com staffer discussed issues related to offensive comments associated with news stories.

*The site enabled comments a year ago; they now are an option on all stories unless an editor removes the capability, commonly on crime stories as well as suicides and other sensitive topics.

*The first filter is a program that screens for 700 ‘dirty words’ or phrases. (‘There are days I’m embarrassed to be reading some of this stuff,’ the staffer said.)

*Comments that make it past the filter are posted but can be flagged by users as abusive; one of around nine Tribune staffers then reviews the item and makes a decision.

*A reason must be provided for killing a comment; typical reasons include being off-topic, profane, personal or posing legal problems. She estimated the staff kills about 10 percent of the 24,000 comments created per week.

*Print reporters have been enlisted to help moderate comments; the online staffer claimed they loved doing that. She also said that moderation is necessary for the space to flourish.


Editor and CEO Geoff Dougherty said the site has a more relaxed policy about comments than the Chicago Tribune.

*Offensive comments may be OK - but comments that have nothing to do with a story will be deleted. ‘For the conversation to have value, it must be relevant to the public discussion,’ Dougherty said, adding a lot of problematic content is eliminated using that criterion.

*However, the website maintains a ban against use of anonymous sources in stories, and it also requires contributors to register using a real identity.

*Dougherty said his staff would act differently if they had a ‘100-year-old brand to protect.’”

The panel was part of the recent conference staged by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC).

Further details on this discussion can be found on Alfred Hermida’s reportr.net blog and a photo stream from the AEJMC event is on Flickr.

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