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As government records move from paper to email to channels like Slack, how should FOIA keep up?
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Dec. 4, 2015, 11:22 a.m.
Audience & Social
LINK: www.nytimes.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Joseph Lichterman   |   December 4, 2015

On Thursday night, as part of its ongoing coverage of the shootings in San Bernardino, Calif., The New York Times highlighted reader comments in one of its most prominent digital spaces: The top of its homepage.

The Times asked readers to share their answer to the question “How often, if ever, do you think about the possibility of a shooting in your daily life?” Readers from all walks of life — from a 62 year-old Missouri hospital worker to a 15-year old Oregon high school student — answered the Times’ call-out.

Times breaking news reporter Liam Stack wrote the story and first asked the question to his Twitter followers.

The Times has long had a unique approach to user-generated content. While Times journalists interact with readers on social platforms, the paper also makes an effort to bring the conversation back to its own site. It has a dedicated team that focuses solely on moderating comments, and in a talk at Columbia in October, Etim said, “We have to treat comments as content.”

Last week, the Times highlighted some of its most prolific commenters on its site. “Their voices have enhanced our journalism, offering new information, insight and analysis on many of the day’s most pressing issues,” Etim wrote.

The Times only opens 23 articles each day for comment, but it receives around 9,000 submitted comments daily and has about 60,000 unique contributors each month. Most of the comments are moderated by editors, but in the coming months the Times plans to implement an increasingly automated commenting system and double the number of articles it allows commenting on, Times public editor Margaret Sullivan reported last month.

While the Times seems to be doubling down on its commitment to reader comments, many other news organizations are taking steps to eliminate comments or make it more difficult to comment on stories. In the past year, outlets such as Recode, Reuters, and USA Today’s FTW all got rid of their comment sections. At Tablet Magazine, meanwhile, readers now must pay if they want to comment on a story.

Most news organizations, of course, don’t have the resources that the Times does to moderate all those comments and create stories around them, but in a post on Times Insider, the Times’ add-on subscription product that gives readers a glimpse inside the newsroom, Etim wrote that the Times hopes to continue to use reader submissions to add value to its reporting.

Perhaps it seems an oddball approach for an industry that rewards speed, but our hypothesis many years ago was that readers of The Times would demand an elevated commenting experience. We also thought that Times readers, given the opportunity, could help teach us how to cover the news as the industry faced seismic changes.

For some time now, The Times’s Community desk has been working toward a vision where we cover you, our most dedicated commenters in much the same way we would a traditional news beat.

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