Trying to Keep a ‘Celebrity Class of Commenters’ Happy

Two articles about the New York Times and its commenting system. First, an article from their public editor:

Censorship! Discrimination! Downright confusion! These are some of the complaints I get from readers about The Times’s reader commenting system and its glitches. It’s always a hot topic and more so, it seems, in recent days.

…“We’re lucky to have a celebrity class of commenters,” he said, referring to the generally high quality of the discourse he sees, “and we want to elevate and recognize them in new ways.” Just how to do that, with limited resources, is a current topic of discussion among audience development people at The Times.

 …the specific concerns:

The “censorship” problem. Some readers complain that they get a notification by email that their comment has been published, but when they go to look for it, they can’t find it.

…The West Coast problem. West Coast readers complain that by the time they get around to reading The Times in the late afternoon, comments may be closed.

…The lack of opportunity problem. Readers often complain that there are stories they would like to comment on but cannot. And they don’t understand why some stories are chosen, and others that seem like obvious contenders are not.

…What’s clear to me is that – although the system is far from perfect now – reader commenting is one of the best ways for The Times to stay close to its readers and what they care most about.

And this second article, by KJ Dell’Antonia who edits and moderates comments on the New York Times’s Motherlode blog:

It’s been said many times that “the best thing about Motherlode is the comments.”

Sometimes that means the amazing, civil conversations we’re able to have here about even contentious issues… Sometimes it comes from someone who is appreciating some of the, shall we say, extreme points of view and ways of expressing them that can be found whenever a writer provokes a strong reaction here… But mostly, people say that because commenters to the Motherlode blog are the “A list” of what our community editor, Bassey Etim, described to the public editor Margaret Sullivan as The Times’s “celebrity class of commenters.”

…Where is my comment? It’s probably in the queue. As Judy put it on last Friday’s open thread: “The slow pace of moderation really detracts from conversation in this forum. What a drag!”

…The comments are all one-sided! Here’s what happens: the original post (on adoption, or vaccination or circumcision) is divisive. Naturally, people who agree with it can write civil comments, which are all easily approved. Readers who disagree may have a harder time staying within those boundaries. Some will use A LOT OF CAPITAL LETTERS AND EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!! which our system may reject before I even see the comment. Others will express their disapproval using obscenities, which we don’t allow, or they may include, in an otherwise acceptable opposing point of view, a line that’s over the line. The result is that a larger percentage of negative comments can’t be published, and if the negative point of view was a minority to begin with, the result looks like the singing of the choir.