Your comments section is only as good as your strategy

Actually, let's read the comments.

Good Morning ☀️

It’s been a while since I’ve been in your inbox. I spent most of the end of the year finishing up my first semester of teaching journalism at USC and thinking a lot more about what I want for this newsletter this year. While you’ll still hear from me about my thoughts on the intersections of news, product and tech, I’m going to also try and use this space to amplify those working in these areas.

This week though, I want to talk a little about comments.

// Hello, and welcome to The Intersection. I’m Adriana, and I use this space to muse on the intersections of product, tech, and news. I’ll try to be in your inbox a few days a week, but I’ll keep it short because we all have things to do. If you want to connect with me, feel free to follow me on Twitter or simply reply to this email. If you want to read more from me, visit theblackjournalist.com. //

A little under a year ago, the Wall Street Journal announced that it would make commenting a subscriber benefit. The publisher saw it as a way to “elevate discourse” on the site. Instead of the traditional “moderator,” the Journal would have audience voice reporters. Comments would be limited to only a few articles each day, with journalists encouraged to hop in and interact with readers.

This past year, we’ve seen a lot of publishers start to really define what a comment section looks like in the digital age. My own employer, the Los Angeles Times, partnered with the Coral Project for a better commenting tool “designed to bring readers and journalists together to share tips and compare notes.”

Yet, 2019 also saw two publications close their comments section for good. Crosscut, located in the Pacific Northwest, closed their comments section, citing “the rise of social platforms and an uptick in threatening comments.”

1) People have myriad ways these days to discuss the news — without Crosscut moderating what’s said. We share our stories on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook to foster conversation, and we’ll continue to do that. 

(2) The time spent moderating comments could instead be invested in finding more meaningful ways to listen and talk with you.

Oregon Live’s decision to close comments was rooted in an analysis of its own comments section, where it found that “very few people contribute the vast majority of comments on the site.”

In fact, across our company’s websites, which serve 50 million unique visitors in an average month, just 2,340 people produce more than half of the comments. Just 3 percent of visitors to OregonLive read the comments over a three-month period last summer. A tiny fraction of visitors ever posts a comment.

Similar to Crosscut, Oregon Live pushed the importance of social platforms to engage with its journalism and reporters and also added it will be experimenting with daily live chats.

Resources are always one of the biggest, most important considerations when thinking about how to engage with readers. Seeing that these publications will look to use those moderation resources elsewhere, like live chats, is heartening to see.

However, encouraging readers to do most of their engaging off-platform on social media is a temporary solution to what will be a long-term problem.

We’re seeing an industry switch that focuses more on owned-platforms like newsletters, live chats and other editorial products which enable publishers to have more control over the look and feel of how readers engage with its work.

Social media, while important to newsroom strategy, fails to provide a sustainable engagement model. Not to mention, moderation has not been a strong suit for tech companies.

For those on the brink of ending comments in favor of something else, I’d encourage you to think critically about what that “something else” is, how it works long-term and the control that your publication has in the day-to-day engagement.

For those with comments, let’s start to think strategically at how to approach comments, not just from an editorial stance, but also a product and technology stance.

Your comments section is only as good as your strategy.


The Product Corner

In each newsletter, I’ll share a few news products that I’ve found on Product Hunt. I’ve either checked out the products, or currently use them, so I can vouch for them. You can follow me on Product Hunt here. Want more product recs? Check out my Medium blog for my weekly roundup of my favorite products, here.

  • Presidential SendersALive dashboard of presidential candidates’ email marketing.

  • Letter, well: Reach your niche audience by advertising in email newsletters sent to pre-curated verified contact lists.

  • Navigator: A new kind of tool that pairs a beautiful agenda with an assistant that takes on the busywork of running meetings.

  • ShareMail: Makes it easy to share email campaigns outside of your inbox. Just forward any marketing email to share@sendview.io and ShareMail will instantly reply with a link to a cached version of that campaign you can share anywhere you'd like.

P.S. — Interested in what I’m reading? Subscribe to my Itemsy. You’ll get a curated email every weekday of interesting stories about tech, product and news.


The Intersection is written by Adriana Lacy. You can follow her on Twitter here and buy her a coffee, too.

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