New study by @shannonsindorf confirms: w/online news forums, handful of voices do all the talking

A study of the Greeley (Colo.) newspaper by our former grad student, Shannon Sindorf, confirms, when it comes to online news forums, most people like to watch (lurk) while a small minority comment.

A doctoral student at the University of Colorado, Shannon is co-authoring the study conducted for the Digital News Test Kitchen in response to the newspaper shutting down its comments section in 2011 after deciding the commenters were getting out of control.

Seems kinda extreme to me.


2 thoughts on “New study by @shannonsindorf confirms: w/online news forums, handful of voices do all the talking

  1. I’ve intentionally stopped reading comments on nytimes and foreignpolicy because of all the flaming, trolling and raging that goes on there regardless of a storie’s subject.

    Instead of constructive conversations, comment sections seem to foster animosity, negativity and conversational narcissism. Though I have not conducted any sort of formal survey, my perception and experience is that negative comments heavily outweigh positive ones and for some reason tend to lean ideologically to the right more than to the left — which perhaps speaks to the demographics of those who are inclined to comment and/or flame.

    I don’t think that shutting down the comment feature in a news section of a news site is such a bad thing, if its utility amounts to a space for venting dissatisfaction. Let the reader read, reflect and then compliment or rage/flame about it on a blog, FB or (what horor) face to face with other people in a park.

    Feedback from the readers is valuable to reporters. But this should be constructive and in the form emails to the editor/reporter, instead of a free-for-all verbal “ordinance” test range. I think because comments often follow immediately after a story they can distort and color the perception of the story before the reader has a chance to form his/her own opinion.

    Some news sites moderate comments — that’s a somewhat better approach. Requiring posters to use real names is good too, though there’s no reliable way to check. The Web offers many spaces for open discussion but perhaps right under a “hard” news story is not the best place.

    As a final thought — I have noticed that interest-specific blogs such as lifehacker, jalopnik, engadget (as opposed to news sites I read) tend to have less negativity in the comments, probably because like-minded individuals coalesce around a common interest hence reducing conflict. This seems to imply that general news– supposedly the representation of factual events–is more divisive than information about things like the best way to build a table out of cardboard, best car to drive or gadget to buy, a bit strange….

    I think the non-lurkers would do well to follow a simple rule — think before you speak, and then think some more.

  2. I think FP’s comments are not usually worth reading. The NYT does moderate – their system of highlighting certain cogent posters is a good one – so I still read and sometimes enjoy them – in fact, they seem to have among the highest caliber comments on any news site. I know HuffPost is said to have an army of folks moderating because of their huge numbers of comments but the quality is absolute garbage. The Las Vegas paper makes you log in with your Facebook account and they said at an SPJ meeting a couple of years ago that greatly improved the quality.

    The comments – if well done – can become part of the story – so they are more than feedback to the reporter. They offer readers not just a chance to talk but a different way of telling the story.

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