What to expect when planning to introduce a moderation procedure in the newsroom.
Putting in place a strategy for engaging with users within the comments sections, including moderation is easier if it happens with the blessing of the leaders in the newsroom. Even when such an initiative does not come from the top, one could bring up several of the following arguments that would help underline the benefits, including from a business point of view. There are numerous studies which show that users who take the time to comment on websites are more engaged with the brand, spend more time on the respective websites, return more often and are more likely to be turned into paying subscribers. A recent analysis by The Times of London on its website comments revealed that “those who comment read three times as many articles as those who don’t comment”, while The Financial Times found that readers who comment on their articles are 7 times more engaged.
The search for ways to increase engagement and build better relationships with the audience has been long on the mind of both practitioners and researchers, opening up new opportunities for collaboration. Thus, in recent years both sides coming together in different projects has not been uncommon. The Engaging News Project (renamed Center for Media Engagement) at the University of Texas at Austin worked on several occasions with newsrooms across the Unites States to find out more, for example, how commenters and journalists interact in the comment sections, while University of Leuven, in Belgium, worked on a tool to help editors and digital managers predict user engagement along with private companies and newsrooms across Belgium where they tested and implemented it.
Even before we started the design of our project, the executives at Gazeta Sporturilor expressed their desire to address the issues raised by online comments (both from an ethical and a practical perspective) in several talks that opened the way for an innovative collaboration between the two worlds. They had the initial idea and drive to push for implementing a moderation procedure, while the researchers in the project defined the research design, content and goals of the procedure that would be aligned both with the newsrooms needs and those of the research project.
Even if our media partners were interested in readers’ reactions, there was also a genuine anxiety on their part about online comments’ overly violent and intolerant nature, which was seen as a potential danger to journalists’ capacity to do their job and act in accordance with professional journalistic norms because comments cause journalists to fear angry and immediate public reaction. The chief editor expressed concern about potential repercussions ‘nasty’ comments had on the perceptions and behaviour of readers, authors and subjects of the published articles.
These three major concerns (that may well echo some of yours) made the executives think about searching for solutions and our project was able to provide a learning process on an editorial issues that had long troubled them:
- The danger of self-censorship within the newsroom and an excessive alignment with audience expectations and reactions when journalists were supposed to express their own opinions or make professional choices.
- The journalists perceived that the people interviewed or described in the articles they wrote were less forthcoming and very careful about what they said because they feared an online backlash once the stories were published online. This aspect raises similar concerns around professional integrity and journalistic capacity.
- Journalists also believed that online comments might influence readers’ perceptions of the articles, possibly generating confusion and diminished trust in the publication.
These concerns were translated into questions that we addressed to the newsrooms in several journalists’ surveys, which we further discuss in a separate piece.
Planning and setting up a moderation procedure in any newsroom needs to focus both on the moderation team as well as the rest of the journalists in the newsroom.
In our case building the moderation team was somewhat an easy decision, in the sense that the 5 moderators were already within the newsroom (previously they were focused on the online edition of the sports newspaper and only occasionally dealt with online comments which meant mostly deleting spam messages and really offensive content). Having the option of turning existing journalists into moderators is probably best and would save time and energy to teach new ones the ropes in the newsroom, even if they might be more familiar with moderation procedures and community management.
Involving all journalists, at least at some stages, will help inform better decisions regarding the moderation procedure, getting most of them on board as well as bringing them up to speed on the whole process as things develop and move along.
READ NEXT —> Discover how to ask the right questions (whether through surveys or regular meetings and talks) and get important feedback from your peers to help set up the procedure and get everyone involved.
Discover how to ask the right questions (whether through surveys or regular meetings and talks) and get important feedback from your peers to help set up the procedure and get everyone involved.