from the baby,-bathwater dept
Last week, new New York Times public editor Liz Spayd said something completely and utterly crazy: she suggested that news outlets and websites should actually listen to and interact with their visitors in news comment sections. Given this is the age where most “enlightened” media outlets are now closing their comment sections and pretentiously pretending it’s because they “value conversation,” Spayd’s comments were treated like the incoherent ramblings of a mad woman on some fronts, people claiming actually caring about readers was a form of “phony populism” and the “willfully naive” rhetoric of a bygone era.
But we’ve noted time and time again that by muzzling them or shoveling off your community to the homogonized blather of Facebook, you’re pretty clearly saying you don’t think your audience really matters. Countless editors refuse to believe this, by and large because nobody at a multi-million dollar media empire wants to actually have real conversations with the dirty plebeians they profess to be so selflessly dedicated to. The entire mechanism should be demolished, they argue, because commenters are mean and say bad things — ignoring studies suggesting this can be easily fixed by giving a damn.
Nick Denton, likely overjoyed to talk about something other than Peter Thiel, last week indicated he’s among this “willfully naive” minority that believes news comments are worth saving. Regardless of whether or not you like the Gawker empire, Denton makes it clear that maintaining communication with the company’s customers is not only common sense, but embracing on-site comments makes money:
“The key is to distribute the moderation, to make every editorial team responsible for the discussions that their stories instigate. It?s not that hard?though it took several years and several million dollars for us to get it right. The commitment to quality discussions was one of the smartest decisions we made. In economic terms, we see a payoff not just in greater editorial leverage, but in time spent on page. On mobile, for instance, we outperform the other publishers by more than half: 81 seconds compared with a Google Analytics benchmark of 53 seconds. I think that?s largely because the pages are more interesting, for longer.”
Again, it’s worth noting that while Gawker spent a significant amount of money on its Kinja commenting platform with some mixed results, data has suggested that just having writers show up to talk can have a profound impact on the quality of comments. But Denton also focuses on the fact that stifling the inherent bi-directional communication nature of the Internet is just dumb, and many outlets just don’t like comments because they advertise errors made in their reporting or commentary:
“Above all, this is just the way that Internet news should be. Why wouldn?t you want to tap the opinions and expertise of your readership? Unless you are embarrassed by them.”
Despite all the media’s bluster about social media being an adequate replacement for an “unsavable” comment section, the reality is many bigger media brands just don’t like having real human beings pointing out when they’re wrong in such an obvious and public fashion. If you’ve spent any time writing on the Internet, you probably know that the comment section, warts and all, is also stocked with some very bright people with wide ranging expertise who’ll often provide invaluable corrections. Possibly right after they make a joke about your mom, but still.
Throwing out the entire concept of on-site comments because a jackass said something mean or pointed out you were wrong about something has never been much of a solution. Subsequently claiming you muzzled your customers because you wanted to “build relationships” and “value conversation” only informs these muted community members you also think they’re all incredible, irredeemable morons. If that’s the brand message you’re actually pursuing in your quest to nab more advertising eyeballs? Phenomenal job.