Reuters, Re/code Care So Very Much About 'Conversation' That They're Asking Commenters To Leave

from the baby-and-the-bathwater dept

A little more than a year ago, Popular Science announced they were shutting of news story comments, stating that comments were “bad for science.” Earlier this month Reuters Digital Executive Editor Dan Colarusso also announced that the company would also be eliminating comments from news stories. Comments, Colarusso proclaimed, were no longer necessary thanks to the rise of social media. Reuters still values conversation about the news, he insisted, but the old-fashioned idea of allowing users to directly comment on stories must give way to “new realities of behavior in the marketplace”:

“Much of the well-informed and articulate discussion around news, as well as criticism or praise for stories, has moved to social media and online forums. Those communities offer vibrant conversation and, importantly, are self-policed by participants to keep on the fringes those who would abuse the privilege of commenting.”

That’s a lovely way of saying that Reuters didn’t care enough about its readers to pay for moderators. This is the same Reuters that a few years ago threw the baby out with the bathwater when they banned anonymous commenters, ignoring the fact that anonymity isn’t synonymous with jackassery, and can often allow people to give valuable insight they might not be comfortable with otherwise.

On the heels of the Reuters announcement the folks over at Re/code this week announced a similar plan, again insisting that social media is a good enough replacement for direct, on-site reader feedback:

“Our writers are all active on services like Twitter and Facebook, and our official Re/code accounts on social media post our stories all day long. Readers aren?t shy about offering their opinions to us on these and other social media services, and you are likelier to be able to interact with us there. In effect, we believe that social media is the new arena for commenting, replacing the old onsite approach that dates back many years.”

Should you visit Re/code now, you’re informed that your comments are considered so important, you’re encouraged to leave:

This sudden disdain for traditional comments raises the question: is Facebook somehow immune to stupid comments? Is forcing all news conversation on to Facebook’s terms really an improvement in meaningful dialogue? The rush to declare the comment section dead seems to ignore the fact that on-site comments create value by building a sense of local community, something GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram recently put rather succinctly:

“The bottom line is that if the discussion and debate and interaction around a news story occurs somewhere else, then soon the readers who are interested in that engagement will start to think of the platform where it occurs as the important part of the relationship ? not the site that actually created the content.”

Offloading moderation costs to social media websites is of course their prerogative, but I find the pretense that this is about some kind of concern for an evolution in conversation to be disingenuous. It’s like a local bar owner saying they value intelligent conversation so much they’d really prefer it if patrons held their conversation at the massive stadium down the street. It’s a way to keep your readers — both the obnoxious ones and those offering interesting insight and corrections — at arms length. The fact these announcements tend to be dripping with disdain for site readership doesn’t generate the impression that participatory feedback is actually welcome.

That’s not to say comments aren’t frequently a raging cacophony of nitwits, partisan blowhards and spambots when moderated poorly. However, there’s a number of older tech communities like Slashdot that have been able to moderate communities and cultivate intelligent conversation for more than a decade on a fraction of the budget of Re/Code and Reuters. Sites like Reddit and Gawker have similarly tinkered with community self-regulation and systems that work to dull the boldest bullhorns in said nitwit cacophony. This sudden trend toward waving your face like a Southern belle at the overwhelming and brutish nature of Internet conversation seems dramatic. We’re herding a few jackasses here, not splitting the atom.

Obviously news comments are an ongoing evolution, and it takes a little work to cultivate meaningful conversation. But offloading your Viagra spam and bile-soaked comment section to Facebook because you can’t be bothered to hire moderators is a cop out and it’s lazy. Pretending you’re doing it because you value conversation adds insult to injury. What Popular Science, Reuters and Re/Code are really saying is that they don’t care enough about their communities — or those regulars who do stop by to have intelligent conversation — to pay somebody to weed the garden.

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Companies: re/code, reuters

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Comments on “Reuters, Re/code Care So Very Much About 'Conversation' That They're Asking Commenters To Leave”

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46 Comments
Machin Shin (profile) says:

Social media is no replacement

I for one do not use any of the social media services and I do not desire to start now. I find it really annoying though how many places are starting to just say “Hey, don’t have social media? Then buzz off.” Going to a different site to make a comment on a story is in no way a replacement for commenting here.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Social media is no replacement

Same here. I have no use for so-called “social media”, aka “mass surveillance”. If I can’t comment on-site and — as I choose to — anonymously or non-anonymously, then I just skip it. I also tend to stop visiting the site and to pull it from my list of recommended sites.

There are many viable techniques for moderation. Most of them work well enough, some of them work very well. Any site that can’t assign a junior employee to spend a day studying those and report back on which might work is a clueless site.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Inevitably, regardless of the topic, at least five people show up to blame Obama for something. There are at least three posts where someone talks about how stupid the people who they disagree with are, which of course are filled with misspellings and they’re/their and your/you’re errors. And then there’s the long back-and-forth of anyone who responds to such people.

PW (profile) says:

Commitment

Comments are great when publishers take them seriously and engage and set norms. What often gets lost when talking generally about comments, is that everyone believes this should be a free-for-all, anything goes, cacophony. However, making comments a valuable part of publisher’s site and experience, requires a more hands-on approach than many publishers want to take.

Re/Code, for its part, is operated by a small team who might not have felt able to provide the attention needed to make their comments section more valuable. If they had asked me, I would have suggested that they try different ways of seeking higher quality interactions by vetting users (whether through attendance to their events, creating paywall for comments, or other means). As well, there’s nothing that says that a site *MUST* allow all comments on their site, and just like they curate and select the stories that will appear on their site, they should be moderating out low quality commentary (as they see fit). I would have considered allowing the community of readers to vote comments up or down (a la Quora) as a means of pushing up the higher quality content while pushing down the noise or the trite responses.

Net-net however, all of this requires a commitment level that it doesn’t feel like any of these publishers have. What’s sad is that finding a central place where a conversation on a story is happening is not easy on the social networks (unless you actively search for it). If people are commenting on Twitter and Facebook, and you’re not connected to them, then it’s unlikely that you will see this conversation. That’s disappointing. Twitter and Facebook have their place, but nothing can substitute for the original publisher of a story to act as central source for the conversation on the topics covered.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Commitment

“Re/Code, for its part, is operated by a small team who might not have felt able to provide the attention needed to make their comments section more valuable.”

That’s probably their reasoning. However, in taking this route, they make their site much less valuable overall. I don’t tend to read sites that don’t allow comments, because for most sites, the comments are where the most interesting commentary takes place.

In other words, a site that allows comments but doesn’t do any moderation is still more valuable than the same site that doesn’t allow comments at all.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Commitment

This shift affects a few things, some positively, some negatively.
Positive:
Cheaper; no need to have moderators
Cheaper: avoids a ton of lawsuits (Think of all the sites that could offload their RocaLabs legal costs to Facebook this way)
Cheaper: avoids software maintenance/patching costs
Safer: turns off a major portion of the attack landscape
Clearer: clearly separates the site-generated content from the user feedback content
Saner: social networking sites track ALL comments and behaviour of their members. Using this method (I’m not sure why Reddit wasn’t listed), you can quickly check a poster’s reputation/post history to gain more insight into how to read their comments. Cuts down on astroturf, spam, trolling, and all the other fun stuff moderators have to deal with

Now for the negative:
You have to be a member of the designated network to participate
Comments are decoupled from the content being commented on (just like with Reddit)
You’re putting a valuable site resource in the hands of a third party who will do X with it.
You’re driving your community onto third party sites — so they no longer have as many ties to your site (they could get the source information from somewhere else and still go to the social media site to read the comments — ad revenue lost among other things)
You lose all control of the shape of the conversation (could be OK or even preferable for some sites)
And the big one: you no longer “own” the comments. Other sites could do things to the comments that are against use policy on your server (inject ads/malware/astroturf, hide comments from people with opposing views, randomly delete comments for a page, etc.)

Personally I only spend any significant amount of time at sites that allow commenting, and interestingly, only sites that allow anonymous comments, even though I often have an account.

Now what this DOES lend itself well to in my view is for Facebook or Google or someone similar to do the Disqus thing and provide an API third-party sites can use to actually HAVE comments on their site, but have them managed via the third party social media site. This would fix some problems and create others (I wouldn’t use such a system, even if it allowed anon comments) but it makes a lot more sense for the site hosters than just offloading their community en masse like some are doing now.

Anonymous Coward says:

Disagree

“What Popular Science, Reuters and Re/Code are really saying is that they don’t care enough about their communities — or those regulars who do stop by to have intelligent conversation “

I disagree. I don’t go to Reuters to have an intelligent conversation, I go there to read their articles. From my persepctive this does indeed prove that Reuters DO care about their community – a literate comment there, let alone a substantive or relevant one, was a rare thing. The ‘jackasses’ from yahoo, cnn and so on are proliferating madly all over the internet and even though I block comment scripts wherever I can that hasn’t been possible everywhere. There are some business news sites with comments that haven’t been over-run, probably because their readership is low and they have devoted owners. Yes, I know that I can decide not to read them but they often get in the way of page navigation (having to scroll past them for instance), however too many commenters have no intent of partaking in an “intelligent conversation” but instead want to repeatedly post inflammatory one liners just to get attention.

Karl Bode (profile) says:

Re: Disagree

From my persepctive this does indeed prove that Reuters DO care about their community – a literate comment there, let alone a substantive or relevant one, was a rare thing

Doesn’t this say just as much about their failure to curate and moderate? Yes, comments suck when nobody from the site participates or moderates effectively.

I don’t go to Reuters to have an intelligent conversation, I go there to read their articles.

Not sure that YOU specifically not liking comments is a justification for getting rid of them.

tqk (profile) says:

Information lossy.

The real problem is that policies like this dumb down the conversation. It’s like applying an amplitude filter to a signal. Compare “bang” and “BANG!” They’ve decided to throw away all the “BANG!”s.

The good thing is they’ll be the first victims of this misguided policy. They’ll be stuck listening to run of the mill tedium. They’re not going to read insightful or important discussions, because they just closed their eyes to them. They’re not going to hear any of the comments any of us post on this topic here, because they weren’t posted in their prescribed manner. For an organization whose business is information gathering and dissemination, this is a pretty foolish decision to make.

“There are none so blind as those who refuse to see.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Yet sites like this call anonymous postings, such as this one, a cowardly act despite the fact that using a pseudonym is really no different – to a degree. Sure, you can track the postings of those using a pseudonym to use as ammunition in a heated debate but it can also be used by employers during the hiring process….

Ed (profile) says:

Bravo to any news site that disables comments or directs them to some other social media like Facebook. Occasionally, I venture down to the comments on sites like Yahoo News and I’m immediately reminded why I usually avoid them. It is bad enough that my local newspaper’s website comments are so god-awful I feel like I need a bath after seeing them. Except for sites that operate on the community comments (like Techdirt), just no. No comments.
I applaud Reuters and Re/code!

slick8086 says:

against the grain...

I think I’m going to go against the grain on this one. I don’t think that news providers should bother with allowing comments. Providing a place for their readers to publicly comment is not their job. If they want to publish “letters to the editor” that’s fine but other than that it is a waste.

I never read news from a news source to see what Joe Blow Internet user things about it, I want the news. If I want commentary I come to a site like techdirt whose purpose is to provide commentary. If I want to have a discussion about a news article I’ll read or post on reddit, you know, some place designed to have a discussion.

bdj says:

Meh... Whatever...

Comments often provide additional insight and are convenient. Sites without comments are far less interesting to me. So are sites that use disqus; I disable JavaScript and cannot view them (seriously, stop using that piece of shit service!). However, the sites with thoughtful comments always draw me back for some reason. I tend to ignore those without. I also will never use anything like facebook…

Techdirt seems to get it…

Anonymous Coward says:

GigaOM may have verbally expressed the value of comments, but actions speak louder. They don’t allow anonymous comments, and have two legal agreements one lengthy with upper case sections completely unreadable for the Average Joe like me. I thought I may have found a new tech news site til my first visit left me with the impression that they are actually user unfriendly and thus became my last visit.

Anonymous Coward says:

Filtering out the woo and disinformation in the comments on high-profile science articles is a 24/7 job for each and every article.

Leaving it up to “debate” in the comments doesn’t work. The misinformation is already out there, and the fundamental asymmetry involved in the work required to spout vs debunking bullshit means that the woomeisters will always have a head start unless you just inst-ban at the slightest sign of nuttery.

It’d be nice if this wasn’t the case, but it just isn’t so.

TheLoot (profile) says:

“What Popular Science, Reuters and Re/Code are really saying is that they don’t care enough about their communities — or those regulars who do stop by to have intelligent conversation — to pay somebody to weed the garden.”

No, I’m guessing it will increasingly be simply because of differing opinions (at least in the “New Media”. Can’t be criticized when you silence your critics.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

It is amazing how often we hear that anonymous online comments are the worst things ever. They hold up places like 4chan as examples of the true evil. I guess they seem to think that if you have to put your name on something we will all be nicer… I guess no ones listened to the vile things coming out of the mouths of Congress, any “Family” based activism group, and all sorts of other places where they have no problem being asses in their own names.

We have arrived at this strange point by a weird mix of things. If you disagree with me, I must attack you on anything I can get a grip on. I can’t say anything mean about groups that have large followings. One must be sure not to trigger anyone. The story has become secondary to the actual discussion.

Many companies are unwilling to try and find a way to balance all of these things, its much easier to send them off to someplace else to spew and not worry if maybe someone raises a point that shatters the entire storyline that was spun.

I like the system here, despite the protests of a few idiots, where the community can “flag” something… and when there are enough votes it isn’t removed… there is still a pointer to it, keeping it in the context it was given but a gentle nudge that many people found these insane rants of not much value click here if you want some insanity.

There is less value in bitching on FB or twitter. News flash, the people on your lists on those sites are echos of yourself. Talking with people who have the same position on things, yeah… ummmm… makes you stupid. You are never in a position where your position is challenged and you need to think/defend/etc your position. I like honest challenges to comments I make, I like being force to think or consider a piece I hadn’t considered before.

If you make people return to their tribes to talk to each other, you end up not improving anything. Look at Congress.

Anonymous Coward says:

Bullshit

What this ALSO does, is guarantee only one view of opinion, the authors………personally, i LIKE to see others opinion on something ive just read, on that same site, whether it be for, against, expanding or explaining the discussion

Plus, there should not be an assumption that EVERYONE wants to join these social sites

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

If these treasure trove of information social sites are being spied upon, then your herding people to be spied upon

Wheres the CHOICE….NOT to be spied upon

I gotta say, as im thinking about it, as one of the VERY few sites that allow anon posting(registration), you were, and still are a breath of fresh air Techdirt

taiganaut says:

uhhhh

If you’re holding up reddit as an example of a place where things have worked out well, you’re on quicksand at best.

Hiring moderators is great. If site owners don’t have the budget, they don’t have the budget. Most comments on newspaper and other mass media sites are complete and total garbage which does nobody any good at all, and these sites aren’t going to have a mod budget. Just turn them off and let the racists and wingbaggers stew QUIETLY.

simality (profile) says:

CNN is down to having one comment thread a day. And most of the time its only open for six hours.

OTOH, very seldom do I find reasoned, intelligent discussion within CNN’s comment threads so I don’t consider this to be any loss.

In fact I very seldom see well-reasoned intelligent conversation in the comments of a story at any general news site. Most of the time, regardless of what is being reported, comments will devolve into the same old unwinnable debates about Politics and Religion.

So I can see where Reuters is coming from. I don’t think I will miss the comments there either.

Anonymous Coward says:

Reasons sites remove their comments sections:

1. These sites don’t really care what their audience thinks.

2. They’re afraid of their stories being censored due to “Right to be Forgotten” laws.

Most of the stories on Reuters are Western Fluff pieces, meaning the stories are either about how great the stock market and overall economy is recovering. Or they’re about the West’s righteous goals in Ukraine and how Russia is trying to undermine the West’s goals. Even though the West did the exact same thing to Russia during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The West didn’t take to kindly to Russia meddling in America’s backyard, Cuba. Yet that’s exactly what is happening in Ukraine. Only the roles are reversed this time.

It doesn’t surprise me Reuters removed commenting from their stories. It’s hard to push Western propaganda pieces when people are arguing their side of the story in the comments section.

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