We hear often from people who say there is no way they would write a comment after news stories at TheGazette.com because of the negative, personal tone they’d have to endure. Suggest an idea and the personal attack on you can be swift, readers tell us, so they stay out of the conversation.
Plus, anything seems to go online, these readers say, referring to broad strokes and accusations that aren’t always true but are hard to refute because of the shout-back when trying to make a statement.
That’s a shame. Our goal at The Gazette is to foster communication about issues and topics that impact our lives in Eastern Iowa. Yet, we are struggling. The reason: evidence backs what readers tell us about the comments.
Admitting this and throwing up our hands is not an option for The Gazette.
TheGazette.com and KCRG.com will host two live chats to discuss with those of you who are interested the tenor and future of commenting on each of our websites. Join us at either website Monday, April 2, from 8 to 9 p.m. or Wednesday, April 4, from noon to 1 p.m.
Aaron Hepker, an online editor with KCRG.com, is leading this effort and will moderate. KCRG-TV9 news director Kara Kelly and I will be there, as well, to interact with the participants.
Our media company hardly is alone when it comes to news organizations trying to foster community conversation. The Poynter Institute, a national educational resource for journalists, published an article last week called, “Why we’ll never stop struggling over comment sections.”
“Comment sections might not attract experts, but they’re visited by a select group nonetheless,” states the article, which has links to more on the topic. In other words, an audience exists. But which audience? And how much larger, engaged and informed could an audience be if it were not so turned off by the select group?
Some newspapers have stopped taking comments on stories. Timesfreepress.com, the website of the Chattanooga Times Free Press stopped taking comments at the beginning of this year on fact-based news, feature, business and sports stories. It allows comments on columns, editorials and cartoons. “Too often, commenters post statements that simply are not accurate; sometimes they attack the person who is the subject of a story,” Times Free Press Managing Editor Alison Gerber wrote in a Jan. 1 column.
TheGazette.com allows commenting on stories except for those involving crimes — people speculate without information and due process is a right — and stories that draw insensitive comments based on culture, race and individual lifestyles.
The Poynter story refers to the Greeley Tribune, which stopped taking comments last year. A group called Digital News Test Kitchen is analyzing old comments at the Tribune’s website as part of a project called “Civilizing User Comments.”
Shortly after the Tribune made its move the Los Angeles Times carried a piece online called “Online comments: ‘Our goal of civility is falling short’.” And the list goes on.
As I was writing this for my Sunday, April 1, column in the printed Gazette and for this blog I heard a voice in my head saying: stop whining and do something about it. The voice could have been from any of you but, rather, it was my own. Having dialogue with the public is a good step toward doing something about it but not the last step. We intend to use the feedback to find the best solution for engaging audiences and fostering communication, in which we still believe at The Gazette.
Our system is broke and we want to fix it. Be part of the solution, if you feel inclined, and join one of the live chats. It will be moderated per the rules of engagement.