What Are Comments Sections?
First, comments sections on news organizations’ websites are a place for anyone with internet access to state their opinion about a particular story that was published.
These sections are simple technological ways for people to publicly discuss current events and today’s news with other people they may or may not know.
*WXOU IT/Web Director, Brendan McCoy, the purpose for these sections for WXOU is that “primarily it serves to get us immediate feed back and give people opportunity to let us know how we are doing, what they think of the events we are throwing and what they think of our music.”*
How Are They Useful?
For those of you who don’t know, journalists have to remain completely opinion and bias-free when writing and publishing their news stories. Therefore, comments sections help bring things to the table newsrooms simply can’t. According to Mark Brigg’s Journalism Next, public comments can bring “local expertise, interaction, discussion and a healthy exchange of ideas”.
Journalists also recognize that the audience does, and always will, choose what kind of journalism they want. So for this, comments sections give a place for the audience to give feedback on published stories which journalists can then use to better understand who their audience is and what their interests are. This helps lead to better stories and a happier audience.
Georgina Henry, former editor of the Guardian’s online commentary pages, wrote in 2010 that
“journalism without feedback, engagement, dispute and opinion from below the line no longer feels complete to me.”
*McCoy notes that comments can be useful to WXOU because”usually we’ll get feedback like “oh I really liked what this one person was playing” and we’ll take that into consideration.”*
So, What’s The Problem?
Believe it or not, comments sections are often filled with mean and hateful speech.
Breitbart News writer, Allum Bokhari, wrote in his article that, “most comment sections are vats of poison, filled with grammatically questionable rants at best and violent hate speech at worst.”
Online comments are often ignorant, racist, sexist, threatening, include swearing, or are otherwise worthless to the news organization and to anyone really.
Here I have a podcast interview with McCoy on his opinions on the impact of comments sections.
What Can Be Done?
Well, news organizations do have website managers that can be responsible for keeping an eye out for and filtering inappropriate and unacceptable comments. If a news story turn controversial, some may even turn off the comments completely in order to avoid further ugliness that could arise.
Briggs also mentions that many news websites have a link near each comment to allow other users to flag it as inappropriate. This becomes especially useful when traffic flow of comments becomes too fast, making it hard to go through and filter them all.