Over the years, readers of PressDemocrat.com have been able to comment on our news stories, but it remains a complicated and controversial part of our online world. Our systems have changed over time, and our attempts to moderate or improve those comments have been well documented and much debated.
Here are answers to some common questions about this part of our digital news report.
Q: Are comments moderated, or reviewed, in advance of publication?
A: Sometimes. We feel the immediacy of a conversation is important, and we don’t want to get in the way of that. People who have registered with our commenting system are not blocked from being able to communicate instantly on social media platforms, nor should they be limited on news websites to having comments wait in some unpublished approval queue. People who haven’t registered have to wait to see their comments appear.
Q: Doesn’t that mean that offensive comments are shown on our website?
A: Sometimes. We have some moderation controls for people who are frequently posting offensive comments and some other tools we can use to help combat nasty comments from appearing. Also, anyone who is a registered commenter on our site can “flag” a comment as inappropriate. But there is no one-size solution, so some of our cleanup work remains a post-publication process.
Q: Who review the comments and decides what’s OK or not?
A: A group of about a half-dozen journalists in The Press Democrat newsroom has the ability to review comments every day, throughout the day and into the evening. This group includes assignment editors, senior editors and digital content producers.
Q: How many comments are posted on PressDemocrat.com?
A: Close to 20,000 each month.
Q: Why do comments occasionally disappear from the website?
A: We’ve upgraded some of our technical systems in recent weeks, and it was necessary to hit the reset button on the comments. It was not ideal, but it was unavoidable.
Q: Why can’t I comment on an article when I’m reading it on my phone?
A: Until two weeks ago, you couldn’t. Now, you can. All articles on our mobile site (http://m.pressdemocrat.com) and our iPhone and Android apps now include the same comments as the desktop version of that article; so, it doesn’t matter which platform you are using in regard to the comments.
Q: Comments used to be entirely anonymous. Then, a Facebook account was required. What is needed now in order to comment?
A: Commenters can still be anonymous to one another and use interesting screen names, but some registration is required. That can be with the Disqus commenting system we use, or with a Facebook, Twitter or Google account. We are aware of commenters’ true email addresses, but they are not disclosed publicly. If the email address is not a valid one, the comment is not published until it is approved by a newsroom moderator. In a recent survey of U.S. newsrooms, more than half of those responded noted that they allowed anonymous comments but did rely on an outside service, such as Disqus or Facebook.
Q: Given the struggles with policing comments, why do we have comments at all?
A: Feedback from readers on our stories can be useful in many ways, from providing more insight about a story to continuing a conversation about a specific element. Our readers also often suggest good follow-up ideas or note errors or inconsistencies in our coverage, and we welcome that feedback.