Wick Communications

Posts Tagged ‘Comments’

Know your commenters

In journalism on 1 Dec 2016 at 2:54 pm


This week, I was fascinated by Christie Ashwanden’s survey of commenters published on fivethirtyeight.com. I imagine we have all wondered what motivates our commenters, both the well-mannered cogent ones and everyone else.

Among Aschwanden’s takeaways from her unscientific survey of 8,500 online commenters:

They are overwhelmingly male (76 percent), and mostly between the ages of 20 and 39. In her survey, people appear much less likely to comment on a story if they are over the age of 40, and only 5 percent of commenters are children or teenagers.

Four in 10 comment at least once a week.

The No. 1 reason given for commenting is to correct an error. Or should I say, perceived error? Aschwanden takes us down an interesting rabbit hole and uses a term I hadn’t heard before: The “backfire effect.” That is when a reader sees something, perhaps just a headline, and it reminds him of an opinion already held. In other words, your article might have no uplifting effect and only serve to reinforce false notions.

Our industry has been round and round with the comment question. We’ve discussed whether to allow them, monitor them, require registration, ban them, or only allow subscribers to comment. I’ve changed my opinion a time or two as well. Today, right now, I think comments are worth the trouble, if for no other reason than this: If we don’t allow readers their say, they are very likely to go somewhere else.

But I’m certainly willing to change my mind…



When tweets misrepresent

In Social media on 4 Nov 2016 at 9:30 am


For some time now, I’ve noticed reporters inserting tweets into their digital copy or referencing them in print. This is fine and often tweets are newsworthy. Look no further than the current presidential campaign for evidence of that.

However, I’ve also noticed reporters using those tweets in place of reporting. Take, for instance, the image above, which came from an ESPN story about the New England Patriots trading linebacker Jamie Collins to the Cleveland Browns earlier this week. The writer was looking to understand what other players thought of it and stumbled on the tweet you see, which is from former teammate Chandler Jones. We are led to believe “Shheeshhh” is some kind of comment on this trade because … well, I don’t know why.

The L.A. Times drew on angry social media rants after Beyoncé had the audacity to sing on the Country Music Awards the other night. In a way, this allows the writer to seek opinion beyond the usual suspects or the reach of her Rolodex, which is good. But it also creates a false narrative. Would whomever is behind @torimarie25 really suggest Beyoncé “go home” if asked by a reporter? Would that Facebook commenter really say, “SHE DOES NOT BELONG!!!”? And would she scream it like that? Should we allow her to say why she thinks that?

Most of us have had occasion to write things on social media we’d like back, things we would never say if asked for a reasoned opinion. I think when we use social media to look for the most outlandish opinion, we are doing a disservice to the truth and finding an artificial way to create divides between people who may be rational and more nuanced than they seem in 140 characters.


What not to do with comments

In Online media on 3 Dec 2015 at 2:57 pm

comments pic

Last week, a loyal if somewhat cantankerous, Half Moon Bay reader brought this discussion to my attention. He suggested that the Review ought take similar steps and call an end to anonymous posts on its website.

You can read it for yourself, but essentially, The Montana Standard news site has been allowing registered users to comment using a screen name. Effective Jan. 1, that policy changes and, apparently due in part to limitations with the site’s TownNews content management system, editors plan to retroactively “out” people who posted anonymously through the years. In other words, the news site flips a switch on BLOX and suddenly all the screen names revert to real, registered user names even though folks had reason to believe they were posting anonymously and would never be revealed. In fact, it’s spelled out in the terms of service.

Editor David McCumber makes a reasonable defense of the change in this column in The Washington Post. He notes that community journalism is different from publishing in the WashPo. People know each other. Those anonymous posts can sting. Which is true.

But I don’t agree that the standards or expectation of privacy should be different, do you? If you post on a site that promises anonymity – whether it’s in Butte, Mont., or the nation’s capital, don’t you have a reasonable expectation that the promise will hold?

I’m pretty agnostic when it comes to the battle over anonymous comments. I can argue both for them and against them. I don’t think there is an objective right answer. But please be careful if you make changes that retroactively affect people who put their trust in you. Once you lose that trust, it’s gone.


The evolution of comments

In Online media on 15 Oct 2015 at 2:40 pm

There are two seemingly incompatible trends going on in the publishing world right now. On one hand, there is a growing number of sites giving up on the idea of “comments” entirely (Wired has a good timeline on that). On the other — maybe as a reaction of sorts? — there is this movement to elevate the contributions of the people formerly known as “readers”.

So begins CUNY journalism student Pedro Burgos’ very insightful treatise on online commentary in a blog posted on Medium this week. His opening salvo is true and it’s been true for some time. From there, he makes some very savvy points, in my view.

Desktop vs. mobile: He maintains you can tell who is commenting on what kind of device by virtue of the length, paragraphing, spelling and so forth. A longer comment was almost certainly composed on a desktop. Which means it was likely composed by an “older dude.” He may be right about that, now that I think on it.

Commenting vs. emoji: Burgos suggests that the ballyhooed new emoji coming out from Facebook – angry faces, sad faces, etc. – may well stifle words on mobile. If you want to say something more than “Like” when you see that picture of your nephew, are you going to type out “Cute?” Or punch the “love” icon?

Should we curate better comments? And give these good commenters a role such as contributor? If so, should we compensate them? Good questions for which I don’t have an answer. … Read the rest of this entry »

Hold your online fire

In Online media on 4 Sep 2015 at 7:52 am

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It’s not fair, but I want to ask you not to respond to online catcalls in the heat of the moment.

I know. I know. People are awful. They call us names. They suggest we aren’t doing our jobs. They bait us. And the same anonymous posters do it again and again. It’s aggravating, particularly when you have just worked a 10-hour day and you know the whiner doesn’t even buy your product. (Imagine Target or Taco Bell or anyone else with a product to sell allowing the kinds of complaints we get on our websites?)

But here’s the deal: When you reply to these lovely people, you elevate their lowly existence. Some things are just beneath us and don’t require a reply. Online readers are fairly sophisticated, by and large, and perfectly capable of separating the legitimate complaint from jack-assery. You don’t need to point it out for them.

Now a couple caveats. … Read the rest of this entry »

Facebook is a double-edged sword

In Online media on 4 Jun 2015 at 1:52 pm
A new study suggests journalists should think carefully about their interactions on Facebook.

A new study suggests journalists should think carefully about their interactions on Facebook.

So says Jayeon Lee, an assistant professor of journalism at Lehigh University. Well. It’s a little more complicated than that, but journalists and Facebook are the key components of Lee’s new study titled, “The Double-Edged Sword: The Effects of Journalists’ Social Media Activities on Audience Perceptions of Journalists and Their News Products” as published in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communications.

I have not read the full study, but I did read Natalie Jomini Stroud’s synopsis for the American Press Institute.

The research basically consisted of this. Lee created four Facebook profiles for a fictional journalist. The first was just links to two news articles. Comments appeared underneath and that was it. In the second, the “journalist” included a personal anecdote about each of the stories. In the third, the fictional journalist responded to each commenter, tagging each on Facebook. In the last profile, the journalist shared a personal tidbit and commented on each comment.

What did we learn? That readers in the study thought more of the journalist as a person if he self-disclosed some aspect of his life, but less of him as a professional if he commented on all those comments.

Huh. So what does that mean? … Read the rest of this entry »

Is it time to kill comments?

In Online media on 8 Jan 2015 at 11:41 am

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Is this the year we ditch online comments? Maybe.

I admit my first reaction was, “ah, hell no!” Why would we cede the back and forth, the communication, the connection to our readers? If we don’t do it, someone else will, right? Can’t we leverage that traffic to bring more people to our journalism?

Well … we’ve been trying.

Consider me agnostic on the idea at this point. And that’s a big leap from where I was even months ago, when I believed the social Web – Web 2.0, for crying out loud! – had the potential to bring journalism into the 21st century.

This isn’t just Clay on a bender. Rational minds are mulling the same topic. DigiDay outlined why some publishers ditched comments in 2014.

First, let’s acknowledge there is certainly value in the sturm und drang of reader participation. Just ask Facebook shareholders. Twitter, Yik Yak, Nextdoor, Vine – the industry that is harnessing that potential is exploding and changing daily.

Second, let’s stipulate that it’s a pain in the butt, particularly in a local context. Monitoring comments, deleting racism, participating in the debate, trying to get people to play nice… Add it up and it’s a full-time job. … Read the rest of this entry »

The rape GIF problem

In Online media on 21 Aug 2014 at 2:35 pm

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The headline was an eye-catcher:

“We have a rape GIF problem and Gawker Media won’t do anything about it.” It appeared on the online general interest website aimed at women that is known as “Jezebel.” Jezebel is a unit of Gawker Media and readers click on the site 200,000 times a day. Like most media websites, it allows comments. And that is turning out to be a problem.

The headline comes atop a very unhappy story, bylined Jezebel Staff, that explains someone was creating anonymous accounts on Gawker’s third-party platform Kinja and then posting violent pornography where the insightful commentary is supposed to go. Over, and over again. From the piece:

This practice is profoundly upsetting to our commenters who have the misfortune of starting their day with some excessively violent images, to casual readers who drop by to skim Jezebel with their morning coffee only to see hard core pornography at the bottom of a post about Michelle Obama, and especially to the staff, who are the only ones capable of removing the comments and are thus, by default, now required to view and interact with violent pornography and gore as part of our jobs.

None of us are paid enough to deal with this on a daily basis.

Hopefully, in the course of your job you haven’t seen anything quite as disgusting as Jezebel describes, but all of us charged with monitoring a website are familiar with the problem of unpleasant trolls. It bums me out every day in fact.

Well, two days after that Jezebel post, Jezebel and Gawker announced something like a fix. It scrubbed the filth from its servers and disabled media uploads on its comment boards. It also re-established the pending comment system. Approved commenters will see their comments immediately, all others go into a pending queue to be uploaded after a peek from editors. The fact that one of the new media giants went back to a previous system only proves that we’re all still working this out. There is no widely accepted standard for comments and how to handle them. … Read the rest of this entry »

Don’t be a ‘blog hog’

In Online media on 26 Jun 2014 at 2:23 pm

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Here’s one thing I would be willing to bet on: Everyone reading these words has had reason to worry over comments on a website. It’s one of those modern concerns that replace things like, “Dinosaur about to crush hut” and, “Which one of you cretins scratched my Deep Purple album?”


This week the site dailywritingtips.com discussed the subject. It pointed to these helpful hints from the folks at WordPress.com (which powers this very blog). The company suggests those who comment on websites:

  1. Be specific.
  2. Don’t leave a link.
  3. Stay on topic.
  4. Be nice.
  5. Keep it brief.

Good advice, right? If all of our commenters took those five simple lessons to heart, if they truly reread everything they were about to post to test those posts against these simple rules, our sites would be more vibrant and meaningful to the communities they serve.

Obviously, we don’t live in that utopia. I delete comments from our site and our Web forum just about every day, sorry to say. I hasten to add that the deletions are a very, very small percentage of the total. I usually only delete things for violations of that fourth commandment – when people aren’t being very nice.

Perhaps the above list is helpful to you as you seek guidance on whether a post goes to far. I don’t think I would recommend deleting posts that are simply long or aren’t specific in their language. But I might use the advice as a guide. … Read the rest of this entry »

A reminder about social media

In Online media on 6 Mar 2014 at 5:16 pm
Thought this was sort of funny, courtesy socialmediatoday.com

Thought this was sort of funny, courtesy socialmediatoday.com

Any of us can make a mistake while using social media. It’s easy to tap out something on your snarkphone, er, smartphone, and later wish you had tapped out earlier. It’s also easy to inadvertently include your name and relation to your workplace when commenting on some websites.

In fact, that happened to Wick Digital Media Sales Manager Jim Keyes recently and he was kind enough to allow me to use his experience as an object lesson for the rest of us. Here he is in his own words:

I recently commented on a story in the local paper and really didn’t pay attention to the fact that Facebook sign-in postings show your personal information for all to see – with your title at your current position. More and more sites use the sign-in as their only procedure and not as an option.

A reader took this title representation on the site as me representing my company, Wick Communications, and was not happy that “Wick” was not characterizing his community in the best light.

Here are my lessons learned:

  1. To no longer post with FB sign-ins – as there does not seem to be a way to delete that title representation on one’s postings. This was misunderstood as a media company offering their official position on a topic – which was in no way my intention.
  2. Today’s world is so small and compact that one would never imagine an anonymous story comment could somehow get back to one’s employer. Pay attention to details. … Read the rest of this entry »