Media Consultant: Comments Are Bad, Please Shut Up

from the that's-not-strategy,-that's-being-a-curmudgeon dept

As newspapers have struggled to get the online world, most of them did the simplest thing of all, which was toss up some comment forms at the end of their articles. However, they never did anything to actually engage with commenters. Instead, they looked at the comment form as being a community, but never gave any incentives for the folks in the comments to do anything intelligent. They didn't tend to the community or have the authors of the articles respond to comments (in some cases they specifically barred it!). So if you treat your comments as a place where the riffraff is just going to say stupid stuff, don't be surprised when that's what happens.

But, it seems that some are getting the wrong message from this. Douglas Bailey, who apparently is a "media consultant" or a "media strategist" has simply determined that all newspaper comments are dumb and should be done away with. Instead, he suggests you write a letter to the editor or an op-ed.

But his reasoning is backwards (and makes me wonder why anyone would hire him as a consultant). First, he gives a few apocryphal stories to make his point -- which isn't exactly compelling since they could be entirely made up. Second, he assumes that because plenty of comments on newspaper sites are dumb the problem is the commenters or the very act of commenting itself. Apparently, it never occurred to him that perhaps the problem is the way the newspapers set up the comments. Those newspapers didn't do anything to try to build up community or to encourage people to post more insightful comments. The problem isn't that the commenters are dumb and pointless, but that the newspaper failed to put in place incentives to encourage smarter comments. The newspapers failed to actually engage with their community and talk with them rather than to them. Any newspaper that wants to hire a media strategist these days should probably find one who looks for ways to help a newspaper better engage their community, rather than one who tells them to ignore the community.


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  1.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 17th, 2009 @ 12:31pm

    "all newspaper comments are dumb and should be done away with."

    First of all who is he to decide what constitutes a dumb comment. Just because a comment disagrees with him doesn't make it dumb.

    Secondly, if you're going to treat your audience, the people you are trying to sell to, as if they're dumb, so much as calling what they say dumb, then you need to adopt a new business model.

    "Instead, he suggests you write a letter to the editor or an op-ed. "

    You mean so that if you correct their incorrectness they can censor you? Why should they have such authority over our freedom of speech? If their ideas can't compete in the free marketplace of ideas then their ideas should die. Instead of calling comments dumb why not defend their position. If they can't defend their position that's not our faults, it doesn't mean that our comments are dumb, it just means that their indefensible position should die.

     

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    John Doe, Jul 17th, 2009 @ 12:36pm

    Talk about old fashioned

    So he wants to continue selling newspapers and he wants people to write letters to the editors? Why didn't he say email the editors? It is painful to watch dinosaurs die. Why can't they go out in the woods and die where nobody has to watch?

     

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    Derek Kerton (profile), Jul 17th, 2009 @ 12:38pm

    I've seen plenty of sites, like Amazon or Youtube, where people can rate a comment. A few negative ratings, and the bad comments are hidden (but not removed).

    That's one way to reduce the time wasted on lame comments. Moderating for language is another tool.

    The harder challenge is to encourage the smarter discourse to occur. However, it is practically impossible to encourage intelligent discourse if you haven't done some prerequisite limitation of asinine comments. Mike's idea of actually having the author participate is a good way to make the discussion worthwhile for homo sapiens.

     

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    Hulser (profile), Jul 17th, 2009 @ 12:39pm

    "[T]hey [comments sections] create a self-perpetuating cycle in which anonymous, unverified information creeps into legitimate news coverage in ways that haven't been fully vetted" - Douglas Bailey

    "Fully vetted"? I'm sure this comment would justify his opinion, but Douglas Bailey if a fucking idiot. This asinine statement makes the obvious implication that all readers of comments sections are drooling idiots that can't differentiate opinion from fact. No, Mr. Bailey, we don't believe everything just because "I read it on the Internet." We actually guage whether something is true or not instead of taking everything at face value as you appear to assume we do.

    No wonder he doesn't want to hear from readers. He thinks we're so stupid that we'd have nothing to contribute anyway. Better to get "fully vetted" news spoonfed to us from the arbiters of truth.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 17th, 2009 @ 12:47pm

    Re:

    "This asinine statement makes the obvious implication that all readers of comments sections are drooling idiots that can't differentiate opinion from fact."

    It also makes the assumption that HE is more capable of differentiating opinion from fact. WHO IS HE that we should believe any such thing?

     

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    Karen in Wichita, Jul 17th, 2009 @ 12:54pm

    I... kinda agree.

    Every now and then, I make the mistake of looking in the comments section after a newspaper article, and it's always a cesspit. I don't mean "people who disagree with me," I mean just plain really stupid stuff: the guy who blames everything on the (racial/ethnic/religions group|local politician X|newspaper itself) regardless of what the story is, or who only post to snipe at other commenters, or whatever. Pick the most childish Usenet group you can think of, at its worst: that's about it.

    People who actually want to talk, even debate civilly end up going elsewhere, because the negative culture is so firmly entrenched.

    I suspect (and my local-columnist friends are evasive when I ask) newspapers like un- or minimally-moderated commenting because the kooks post comments there instead of leaving them weird voicemails. It channels them into a fairly harmless (but public) venue, and all the normal people who want to discuss something in a rational fashion go blog (we have plenty of very lively political/philosophical group blogs). It's kind of a win-win, if you look at it right. I guess.

     

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    Hulser (profile), Jul 17th, 2009 @ 12:57pm

    Re:

    However, it is practically impossible to encourage intelligent discourse if you haven't done some prerequisite limitation of asinine comments.

    I think the Techdirt comments section proves you wrong. Sure, we get comments from shills, idiots, newbies, and the masters of the straw man argument and the ad hominem attack, but for the most part there is some very intelligent discourse here.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 17th, 2009 @ 1:04pm

    comment moderation must be sophisticated

    establishment media doesn't like commenting because of the exact bullshit that goes on here. mike makes some analysis that he feels is important, and someone who disagrees will blast him. they'll get into a shouting match and it only makes mike look like an idiot trying to defend his views from the anonymous wasteland that is the internet.

    slashdot probably has one of the better commenting systems around. you've all seen the garbage that comes from unmoderated comments (here), or lightly moderated (digg, youtube). at the same time, moderation only furthers the bias of the community. you can say the most meritorious and factual thing on /. but if it's pro-microsoft, you can expect it to get buried.

     

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    Ryan, Jul 17th, 2009 @ 1:09pm

    wow

    somebody should point them toward fark, digg, shoutwire, reddit, or one of the thousands of other sites that is successful simply because people go there to comment on stuff.

    How do you get one of these jobs, being highly paid to be ignorant of an industry, and whycome people like us who know what they're talking about can't get them.

     

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    Hulser (profile), Jul 17th, 2009 @ 1:10pm

    Every now and then, I make the mistake of looking in the comments section after a newspaper article, and it's always a cesspit.

    But this actually supports Mike's point. If you don't do anything to help it be otherwise, don't be surprised when your comments section is nothing more than a cesspit. It's like a record company offering to sell the public online music that is delivered via a crappy interface with a tiny selection and laden with debilitating DRM and then turning around and saying "A ha! I told you the public didn't want to buy online music!"

    It channels them into a fairly harmless (but public) venue, and all the normal people who want to discuss something in a rational fashion go blog

    This may work for the reader, but this model means that the newspapers are allowing someone else to gain value from what could be their community. If you think that comments sections can't be improved, or worse yet, that getting feedback from your users isn't worthwhile in the first place, bloggers and other parties are just going to eat your lunch.

     

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    dez (profile), Jul 17th, 2009 @ 1:11pm

    Re: Hulser

    I completely agree with how techdirt's comment section is setup. Right down to the "Anonymous Coward" designation. I resolved a long time ago that if I was going to put a comment after an article I read that I was going to identify myself. Why? Because they are my words and opinions.

    Besides, writing a letter to the editor is a flawed process. Most newspapers have 'standards' that they adhere to like: Editing the comment for length; which allows for that same letter to lose it's authenticity and underlying meaning.

    "By the way, don’t bother posting any comments directed to me when this article appears on the Web."

    Maybe he should have clicked the "Do not allow comments" button. At least it would have provided people a reason to not comment.

     

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    DJ (profile), Jul 17th, 2009 @ 1:35pm

    Re: Talk about old fashioned

    because they're big and scary and you should fear them..

    Jeez I can't believe you didn't know that.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 17th, 2009 @ 1:37pm

    IMHO the problem with newspapers is that they're batch based. They write a bunch of notes, select which ones they want to publish, publish them and forget about it. This transactional interactive media where you have to actually engage with your piece after it's done is just too much for them. And that's what they think people will pay for if they have to.

     

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    DJ (profile), Jul 17th, 2009 @ 1:38pm

    Re: Re: Hulser

    "Most newspapers have 'standards' that they adhere to like: Editing the comment for length; which allows for that same letter to lose it's authenticity and underlying meaning."

    Absolutely. I wrote an opinion editorial for the local paper when I was in high school. It got published. However, what got published skewed the whole point of the article I wrote.

     

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    DJ (profile), Jul 17th, 2009 @ 1:47pm

    Re: comment moderation must be sophisticated

    Douglas Bailey, I presume?

    Yes, there's some rather idiotic discourse that takes place here; even outright arguments. I've even made completely unrelated smart-ass posts, just because i thought it was funny.

    However...

    Mike posts articles that evoke thought, conversation, and debate. Does he have an agenda? Frankly I don't care if he does or not, because I enjoy reading the articles here. More than that, I really do enjoy reading the comments, even the ones that piss me off, because they get me thinking. Perhaps you should do some of that, yourself, before you "dis" this site. Or better yet, if you don't like this site DON'T FUCKING READ IT.

     

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    DJ (profile), Jul 17th, 2009 @ 1:48pm

    Re: wow

    One word:

    Cuz

     

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    Dark Helmet (profile), Jul 17th, 2009 @ 1:49pm

    Re: Re: Hulser

    "Besides, writing a letter to the editor is a flawed process. Most newspapers have 'standards' that they adhere to like: Editing the comment for length; which allows for that same letter to lose it's authenticity and underlying meaning."

    Not to mention that most letters to the editor don't get printed, whereas all comments in an unmoderated forum do. Since many/most folks post under some name other than AC, you can either pay specific attention to or skip past many comments based on name, if you wish. Personally, I look forward to reading the comments of the community as much and sometimes more than the article itself. Of particular interest are:

    A. When it's a comment war between Mike and Odd Harry (or his new AC moniker), Angry Dudarino, or that one guy that likes to list every affiliation he's ever had and claim he's speaking only for himself.

    B. When I've had an idea that I think is on solid ground but want to test via the reaction of the community

    C. When I've come up with something that I think is really funny and I want to check that via the reaction of the community.

    The point is that, while I've certainly gotten into juvenile discussions on this site, I've also had some truly profound constructive arguments in which I've learned a lot. I value that. If it weren't for the community, I wouldn't be here (sorry Mike, like your style and your work, but it wouldn't be enough for me to visit daily).

     

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    DJ (profile), Jul 17th, 2009 @ 1:50pm

    Re:

    You mean we DON'T have to???

     

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  19.  
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    Tim Willingham, Jul 17th, 2009 @ 1:56pm

    Letter to the editor: Use some brain cells!

    "Instead, he suggests you write a letter to the editor or an op-ed."

    Well, if you think about it, that's exactly what the commentors are doing! The newspapers should scrape those comments for thoughtful insight and post them as "letters to the editor".

     

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  20.  
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    Big Media, Jul 17th, 2009 @ 1:57pm

    Whaa Whaaa

    Whaaa, I don't get paid the same way anymore. Whaa whaa, do what I say because I said so. Whaa, I don't like competition from smarter more motivated people. Pay me. Pay me. I'm gonna sue you if you don't pay me. Whaa whaa.

    ...it's getting old.

     

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  21.  
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    DJ (profile), Jul 17th, 2009 @ 2:00pm

    Re: Re: Re: Hulser

    I 100% agree with that statement (hehehe).

    I visit this site via the igoogle widget, so if the headline doesn't interest me I won't even click the link. Hence there are times when I've not read an article or made a post for weeks.

     

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    Dark Helmet (profile), Jul 17th, 2009 @ 2:04pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Hulser

    "I 100% agree with that statement (hehehe)."

    First time?

     

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    DJ (profile), Jul 17th, 2009 @ 2:05pm

    Re: I... kinda agree.

    "Every now and then, I make the mistake of looking in the comments section after a newspaper article, and it's always a cesspit."

    Which exactly the point here. If there is no discourse with the original author (and Mike definitely makes his presence known here), or, at the VERY least, a moderation which removes and/or hides trolls, then there is no reason to keep comments intelligent.

     

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    DJ (profile), Jul 17th, 2009 @ 2:07pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Hulser

    That I 100% agreed with YOU? Yes, but I don't recall a time when it was below 50.

     

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    DJ (profile), Jul 17th, 2009 @ 2:09pm

    Re: Letter to the editor: Use some brain cells!

    Yes, but the problem is that the newspapers are completely IGNORING the comments, which basically makes it so that thoughtful insight is rare or nonexistent

     

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    DJ (profile), Jul 17th, 2009 @ 2:10pm

    Re: Whaa Whaaa

    I do so love irony.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 17th, 2009 @ 2:23pm

    Hard for writters to respond to comments

    It is easy to criticize the journalist for not responding to comments. However, we should be fair to the journalist here. Realistically the journalist was most likely writing the article based on a press release, and had no knowledge of the topic beyond the press release. How could the journalist be expected to respond meaningfully to the comments if the comments addressed sides of the issue not covered in the press release? /sarcasm

     

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    Dark Helmet (profile), Jul 17th, 2009 @ 2:28pm

    Re: Hard for writters to respond to comments

    Why in the world did you mark that /sarcasm?

    /seriousasm

     

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  29.  
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    Capitalist Lion Tamer (profile), Jul 17th, 2009 @ 2:40pm

    Re: Seriousasm

    I once had one of those. I was hospitalized for three weeks (five weeks Canadian). To steal a quote from Woody Allen, it was "the most fun I'd had without smiling."

     

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    riese, Jul 17th, 2009 @ 2:43pm

    i just wanted to comment so i could feel meta xoxo

    Newspapers should allow comments, writers should respond to good comments, and youtube should ban all comments for all of time forever and ever, and then all the commenting sites of the world will be excellent.

    jezebel & gawker have good commenting models.

     

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  31.  
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    TheStupidOne, Jul 17th, 2009 @ 2:58pm

    Re:

    "First of all who is he to decide what constitutes a dumb comment. Just because a comment disagrees with him doesn't make it dumb."

    No, there are LOTS of dumb comments in the world. in particular "FIRST", anything in all CAPS, more than one occurrence of "teh", or anything trying to get other readers to go look at pr0n.

    Also commentators that complain about something missing that was clearly in the article itself

     

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    Joe, Jul 17th, 2009 @ 3:13pm

    duh

    Often you will see media conglomerates run scared from building a community. If I look to CNN only a few articles offer the chance to submit comments...typically those are the better written articles. If an article is completely ridiculous you can only email the editor, not even the author, and finding that is often too hard to be worth while.

    Offering minimal incentives will often help create a self regulating community. People build a reputation commenting in a site/forum/whatever they will often reach out to those who act foolish in hopes of being awarded some star by their name or something, or activity level. It isn't hard to build something along those lines...jut look at yahoo answers.

     

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  33.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 17th, 2009 @ 3:18pm

    Re: Re:

    He said "all newspaper comments are dumb" as though he is the ultimate authority over what constitutes a dumb comment. when he acknowledges that his opinion is not any more valid than the opinion of others and when he respects the opinions of others then we can respect his opinion. But to call ALL comments dumb suggests otherwise.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 17th, 2009 @ 3:24pm

    Re: Re:

    I don't necessarily disagree with you but I think you are taking what was said out of the context of what was being responded to. If he had said, "some newspaper comments are dumb" then I think most wouldn't disagree and the response "First of all who is he to decide what constitutes a dumb comment. Just because a comment disagrees with him doesn't make it dumb." wouldn't be appropriate. but he said "all newspaper comments are dumb" and the response was very appropriate to what he said.

     

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    Blatant Coward (profile), Jul 17th, 2009 @ 3:24pm

    Fact Check, Aisle 3!

    Mr. D. Bailey,

    "all newspaper comments are dumb and should be done away with."

    Aghast sir! I am simply Aghast that someone classifying my comments on the modern herbal miracle that will make your manhood leave her weeping in joy on the floor as 'Dumb' or anything less that "TOTAL FACTUAL SERIOUS TRUTH, AS HONEST AS YOU WILL BE LONG!!!!!!"

    This is truly a dark age of ignorance, and intellectual blight, and I bid you good day!

    GOOD DAY, SIRRAH!

     

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    Doctor Strange, Jul 17th, 2009 @ 7:34pm

    I read an article recently by another media personality who was making kind of the same point. Some quotes:

    The problem with really getting engaged in a community is getting through the clutter and noise. In a closed environment...a lot of this can be moderated away, or code can be implemented to make it more difficult for troublemakers to persist. It's tedious and feels like wasted energy doing that shit, but some people exist to ruin it for others - and they are the ones who have nothing better to do with their time.

    I will be tuning out of the social networking sites because at the end of the day it's now doing more harm than good in the bigger picture and the experiment seems to have yielded a result. Idiots rule.

    Who wrote all that? Some old media coot who doesn't make a real effort to build community and engage with it, I bet.

    But it wasn't, of course. It was Trent Reznor.

     

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  37.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 17th, 2009 @ 10:43pm

    Re:

    "I will be tuning out of the social networking sites because at the end of the day it's now doing more harm than good in the bigger picture and the experiment seems to have yielded a result. Idiots rule."

    Just call the masses idiots and your business model is sure to succeed.

     

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    bignumone (profile), Jul 18th, 2009 @ 5:49am

    I had to comment

    I personally love reading some of the comments. But I just can't sift through hundreds of comments to get to the 'gems'. I saw a site that used a rating system that people could vote on good/bad comments. My suggestion would be to have a vote on whether the comment was pertinent to the topic of the article that automatically moves the lowest rated comments to the end.
    That is my "stupid comment". I'll shut up now.

     

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    Nick Dynice (profile), Jul 18th, 2009 @ 9:56am

    This is a great example of the Broken Windows Theory. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fixing_Broken_Windows

     

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  40.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 19th, 2009 @ 5:50pm

    You know what's a good business model they can adopt. Put their news out there for free and CHARGE to have comments on your news site. Sure others can start blogs and reference the news sites (or they can reference it on message boards) but those who actually pay for comments on the news sites will have their comments be heard by everyone who references the site no matter where the link came from. So there views will get more coverage.

     

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  41.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 19th, 2009 @ 5:51pm

    Re:

    BTW, this business model is not patentable as either a business model or an idea or invention or whatever you want to call it.

     

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  42.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 19th, 2009 @ 5:56pm

    Re:

    They can also allow payed commentators to post anonymously. Of course there would be a TOS. But they can either post anonymously or under a screen name they payed for. That way they can either identify themselves or not. The screen name, of course, doesn't have to give away who they are (ie: their real name or anything like that), it can just be something to identify different posts by the same person. Or a customer can identify themselves. Of course this means that the news site can technically identify you but every time someone posts on here your ISP can also identify you if they monitored your connection (even if they're not legally supposed to).

    This idea/invention/business model/whatever you want to call it is not patentable, copyrightable, trademark-able, or in any way subject to intellectual property.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 19th, 2009 @ 6:03pm

    Re:

    That is, anyone can see the comments without paying but those who want to comment on the site have to pay. Others can comment on some other blog if they wish but comments on the site itself will receive the most publicity because they will be accessible to everyone who visits the site no matter which blog or message board they came from.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 19th, 2009 @ 6:09pm

    and of course journalists should interact with the payed commentators and respond to their criticisms or agree with them when they do. The news site can offer one of two plans. You pay 10 cents per comment (or whatever they believe to be fair) or you pay a $10 per month (or whatever) for up to 1000 comments (or whatever) per month.

     

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  45.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Jul 19th, 2009 @ 9:50pm

    Re:

    I read an article recently by another media personality who was making kind of the same point. Some quotes:

    What an odd and misleading comment from you. Trent Reznor is in a very different business. He's not in the business of producing news, and he isn't in a business of building a community to sell to advertisers. I'm not sure what the similarities are.

    That said, I agree that his quote was a bit over the top, but again it was quite different than what this guy was saying -- where he was literally telling newspapers to do away with their comments.

    Trent's comments (again, not as a business) were about himself personally and how annoyed he was with the way some folks were treating him personally. And so he claimed it was bad... but I'll note that he's actually still using social media. He basically got angry and snapped, but he didn't stop using it.

    Besides, he's very much focused on fostering real community on his own site, where he has the ability to influence behavior -- which is the very point I made in this post. The guy in the article was just saying all comments are bad, without suggesting that media sites learn to better cultivate their audience. Reznor was saying that he wants to focus on communities where there is some ability to cultivate good behavior.

    Seems in perfect alignment with me.

    So what point were you making?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 19th, 2009 @ 11:33pm

    Re: Re:

    Heh. Funny response.

    But in seriousalityness, what I was getting at but failed to express is that sites that are ALREADY comment cesspools will have a hard time encouraging the genesis of intelligent discourse until they clean up and have some reasonable percentage of the comments be interesting.

    A site like this, which never fell into the "totally garbage" comment club, can carry on so long as a good portion of the comments are decent. Further, author participation helps make it a real discussion.

    And shills, so long as they are engaged in debate, are more than welcome. I think the true colors shine through after a few paragraphs, and this allows people to see if either side of a debate is arguing fairly, or if they are full of bluster but little substance.

    The idiots and ad hominems and cussfests, I could do without.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 21st, 2009 @ 7:18am

    Re: Re: Hard for writters to respond to comments

    I agree. For all their talk about being professionals and having real skills, it seems that most journalists just parrot what they're told, and most editors have an agenda to push. When was the last time we saw any real investigative journalism? A journalist who writes an article without being able to comment on it meaningfully is a sorry excuse for a journalist. A highschool freshman could do as much.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 21st, 2009 @ 7:37am

    Re: I had to comment

    The trouble is that, as noted above, you'll end up amplifying the bias and having vocal users effectively censoring things they don't like.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  49.  
    icon
    Natanael L (profile), Jul 22nd, 2009 @ 4:45am

    Re: Re: Hulser

    "I resolved a long time ago that if I was going to put a comment after an article I read that I was going to identify myself. Why? Because they are my words and opinions."

    I just posted a comment to another article while not logged in. Then I noticed that I wasn't logged in. So I logged in and posted a reply to my first comment so that my nickname would be visible.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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