For all the easy talk of garbage fires and troll-infested swamps, most commenters who read and weigh in on news stories online appear to want company — from reporters and experts who can offer answers to factual questions. This is according to a large survey of readers across 20 U.S. news organizations, from print to broadcast to digital-only, produced jointly by the Engaging News Project
at the University of Texas and The Coral Project
and published on Thursday.
(The survey received more than 12,000 responses.)
On average, 81 percent of commenters at the news sites included in the report said they’d like it if reporters clarified factual questions in the comment section; that percentage varied between 71 percent and 87 percent across the sites surveyed.
In addition, an average of 73 percent of respondents said they wanted “experts” on topics covered in a news article to weigh in on comments (percentages varied between 61 percent and 82 percent across the sites surveyed). Nearly half said they’d like it if journalists highlighted quality comments. (The Washington Post will begin doing even more of that on Friday, when it launches an email newsletter highlighting top reader comments and discussion threads.)
Regarding reporters, 58 percent said they’d like it if journalists actively contributed to comment sections (variation: between 51 percent and 68 percent):
(This preference varies for those who post comments versus those who only read and versus those who neither read nor post comments: 61 percent of those who post comments say they’d like journalists to actively contribute, compared to 56 percent of those who read comments, and 50 percent of those who neither read comments nor post them.)
“Comments are all too often under-resourced and ignored in newsrooms,” Andrew Losowsky, project lead for The Coral Project, said in a statement. “This survey demonstrates a huge opportunity for conversations that bring journalists and their audiences closer together.”
There are many other potentially useful nuggets on commenting behaviors and preferences in this study, which you can read here. A few of them:
- 62 percent think it’s possible to report offensive comments on their news site (it’s possible at all of them).
- The No. 1 driver of commenting? The desire “to express an emotion or opinion,” unsurprisingly. Runners-up: “to correct inaccuracies or misinformation,” “to take part in the debate,” “to add information,” and “to balance the discussion.” (All five responses were tightly grouped, between 35 and 44 percent.)
- “Perceptions of the civility of news comment sections vary widely by site. Between 14% and 78% of respondents per site rate the comments on the site very or somewhat civil.” There’s a slight correlation between site size and perceived civility — smaller sites being more civil — but there’s not enough data here to draw a broader conclusion.
Photo of chattering teeth toy by Wendy
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