Reporters: How to respond to comments
Reporters getting involved in story comments has long been taboo in most newsrooms. And I don't blame them: Most comments are often the darkest thoughts of otherwise normal individuals.
Mixing it up with a surly gang of commenters requires tact and guts. Fortunately, reporters have both.
By responding to comments, reporters can go a long way to improve the level of interaction on their news site as well as better their journalism.
Knoxville News-Sentinel reporter Jamie Satterfield responds to a users' comment on a story she wrote. The red "staff" label is created for all staff members posting comments on Scripps' news Web sites.
The Web site of the Knoxville News-Sentinel has long been one of Scripps' most active in terms of comments. Tens of thousands are posted each month with many hundreds removed because they aren't up to snuff.
Heck, they've even held in-person round-tables with members of the community to discuss how to improve the scene.
Though vile comments can be posted to any story at any time, most attach themselves to stories that touch on crime, race, politics and religion. A recent example is the torture/slaying trial for the Channon Christian, Christopher Newsom murders.
One of the accused in the Christian/Newsom case has already been convicted to life in prison without parole. The next trial for alleged ringleader Lemaricus Davidson will be underway in the middle of this month. Stories about both have already attracted huge page views and requisite comments.
But KNS reporter Jamie Satterfield has taken a the innovative (for the news industry) to walk amongst the trolls. She has posted some 50 responses to comments on those stories in an effort to help readers understand more about the case.
To borrow Scripps' mission: Satterfield is shining light in an area of the Web site where rumor and opinion runs wild. And perhaps not surprisingly, when users see that a reporter is responding to their questions, they take notice. It cuts the riffraff and raises the level of discussion.
In a word, it creates "value" where there was little before. And where would advertisers like their ads to be, a page filled with hate or a page filled with intelligent conversation about a topic important to the community?
Here are some examples of users asking Satterfield questions:
miss satterfield -
with each trial and each endless motion filed by these attorneys as well as each flying accusation being made at each other among these criminals, it seems obvious that trying all of them together, rather than individually, would have been the best way to diminish the confusion created by all the conflicting testimony.
why were these defendants not tried together - who makes that request or that decision ?
I'm wondering if there is any legal or other impediment to Boyd eventually being charged by the state of Tennessee for crimes connected to this case beyond the crime he's already been convicted of Federally?
When we launched the recent redesign of KNS' Web site we sought ways to improve how reporters can manage comments on their stories, photos and videos. The most basic method is to identify a staff comment from a user comment: Note the red "staff" by Satterfield's comments on one story.
Other features we've introduced are:
- RSS feed for all comments on a particular piece of content, such as a story
- RSS feed for all comments posted to content by a particular author
Both of these can help reporters keep tabs on the many comments posted by filtering it to content relevant to them.
Though this is probably common sense, I should note that reporters should never interject their opinion into a comment thread. They should remain objective at all times, including through social media, and only seek to correct errors or answer questions from users.
Lastly, you might ask: "Why should reporters respond to comments? Don't they have enough to do? Isn't this the job of online producers?"
Responding to comments is everyone's job really. But in the case of news content being published I think it makes sense for reporters to be the primary responder. They know the content better than anyone. Their responses will also help introduce a new wave of interaction with our sites that is so desired by anyone involved in discussions about social media these days.
For the media types that might be reading this: What is your policy for responding to comments on your content? Please share examples of what has worked and what hasn't in the comments.