Time to rebrand comments

“The focus will shift from ‘Say anything, whoever you are’ to ‘How can our most dedicated readers contribute — to the debate, to the reporting, to the work of our journalists?'”

It’s time to stop using the c-word. “The comment section” has moved in people’s minds from being an empty box on a website into a viper-filled pit of hell. We need to start again. We need to do better.

andrew-losowskyThis change is necessary because most publishers haven’t understood the value of their communities and so have starved them of resources. We all know what happened next: Trolls and abusers delighted in placing the worst of their words beneath the mastheads of respectable journalism, and overwhelmed the conversation. “Don’t read the comments” became a mantra.

Little surprise that some publishers have chosen to close down, or highly restrict, their comment spaces.

In 2016, publishers are going to make a mental shift away from “comments” and towards “contributions.” They’re going to do this because engaging their communities towards contributions is the best way to surface exclusive content, to get closer to the audience and their needs, to make people feel more connected to the brand, to correct errors, to add new voices, and to get ahead of stories. The business, the journalism, and the ethics of the newsroom all depend on it.

The focus will shift from “Say anything, whoever you are” to “How can our most dedicated readers contribute — to the debate, to the reporting, to the work of our journalists?”

Along with that shift will come a series of new questions for publishers:

  • What kinds of contributions do we want for each type of content?
  • What does a useful contribution look like?
  • How can we create conditions that encourage useful contributions, and from a wider diversity of voices?
  • How can we add value by being part of these communities, instead of staying apart from them?
  • What differentiates our on-site communities from those on social media?

On The Coral Project, we’re working with publishers of all sizes to answer these questions, and to build free, open-source tools to make it possible. We’d love for you to join us.

Comments are dead. Long live contributions.

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