Journalist perceptions of comments, moderation and online engagement
What do journalists think about online comments and whether and how the newsroom should better engage with their audiences? A Median Research Centre (MRC) report brings new insights from the newsroom of major Romanian sports newspaper Gazeta Sporturilor (GSP).
MRC and GSP came together in the “Less Hate, More Speech” project to develop comment moderation procedures and experiment with ways to encourage more civil and thoughtful conversations in the comment section. This report is part of a series documenting our collaboration and its results. It sheds light on how the journalists see comments and the people that post them, their views on moderation, key attitudes and beliefs likely to influence their outlook on incivility and intolerance in the comment section, and on the journalists’ views on audience engagement more broadly. The report also highlights certain changes of opinion among the journalists, based on their own statements and survey responses, collected before, during and after the moderation process took place (April 2015-June 2016).
Some highlights from our survey findings:
The good, bad and the ugly of online comments:
- When surveyed before the moderation kick-off (in winter 2014), most journalists reported having found useful article ideas (68%) or useful information (78%) in the comment section, and 65% reported having seen new perspectives thanks to online comments;
- At the same time, an overwhelming majority thought comments distract attention from the content of an article (93%) and many agreed that comments can shift the reader’s perspective on a journalistic piece (68%);
- In 2014, the majority of those surveyed believed comments are inevitably flooded by racist, violent or brutal and aggressive language (67%), and their views on this remained roughly the same over time.
Views on moderation:
- When surveyed in the winter of 2014, 73% preferred comment moderation to removing the comments altogether or leaving them as they are;
- However, 22% of the newsroom thought that moderation would be against free speech or the principles of the newsroom. Two years later, only 6% of respondents agreed with this view;
- At the beginning, many (58%) doubted that hateful or intolerant comments could be separated from other aggressive posts. By the end, only 25% held this opinion. In the last survey, only 19% of respondents said moderation could not be applied systematically due to moderator subjectivity;
- In 2016, 80% of the newsroom believed the benefits of moderation outweighed its disadvantages, and 75% saw a reduction in the number of vulgar, aggressive or intolerant comments.
Views on reader engagement:
- At the start of the moderation, about 65% of the newsroom was somewhat or firmly convinced that it was worth dedicating time to interaction with the readers. Although the share of people who believed this increased between the first and last survey, those who answered both did not meaningfully change their views (in other words, the change was driven by the replacement of certain respondents);
- By the end, many journalists were supportive of certain ideas for reader engagement, such as creating a policy on how to approach commenters directly in the comment section, like thanking them for signalling mistakes – 71% agreed it was a good idea and 82% thought good comments should be highlighted.
The information presented above is drawn from: three newsroom surveys (n = 26 – 37) conducted before, during and after the period of moderation as part of the “Less Hate” project; two surveys of the team of five journalist-moderators engaged in the project (conducted at the start and at the end of the moderation period); the written testimonials of the moderators; and discussions with the moderators.
For more findings from our newsroom surveys, as well as stories of the moderation process and details about the moderators’ experience, access the full report.
See some of the big numbers on the moderation process and what trends we saw after examining 600,000 comments on 4 websites.
Less Hate, More Speech – Youngsters Get Involved!
The project is run by Median Research Centre (MRC) in partnership with Educ Association and targets young people between 12 and 17 years old, in order to help them better identify and react to online and offline hate speech.
More, on the project’s website.