Toward a more thoughtful conversation on stories

September 27, 2010

Visitors to this space may recall that I wrote this summer about the issues Reuters and other news organizations face in dealing with reader comments on stories.

I’ve become increasingly concerned about the quality of discourse in comments on news stories on and on other major news sites.  On some stories,  the “conversation”  has been little more than  partisans slinging invective at each other under  the cloak of anonymity.

I believe our time-challenged, professional readers want to see a more rewarding conversation—and my colleagues who lead are introducing a new process for comments that I believe will help bring that about.

The new process, which gives special status to readers whose comments have passed muster in the past, won’t address the anonymity issue, but I do think it is an important step toward a more civil and thoughtful conversation.

Let me introduce Richard Baum, Reuters Global Editor for Consumer Media, to tell you about the new process:


Like many major news publishers, we’ve agonized over how to balance our enthusiasm for reader comments on stories with our belief that few people would benefit from a free-for-all. Most of our readers respect our request for comments that “advance the story,” by submitting relevant anecdotes, links and data or by challenging our reporting when they think we’ve fallen short of our editorial standards. It’s rewarding, sometimes even exhilarating, to see the way our audience builds on our coverage.

Where we struggle is with comments that we believe contribute nothing useful to the conversation. I’m not talking about obscenities and spam — we have software that aims to block the publication of those — but something more subjective. Most of our readers are business professionals who value their time highly. We believe they want comments that are as rewarding to read as they are to write. The challenge is how we deliver that experience in a way that doesn’t delay the publication of good comments nor use up resources that might be better deployed on other parts of the site.

I’ll explain how we’re tackling that shortly. But first, here are some examples of the type of comments that fall foul of our moderators:
– racism and other hate language that isn’t caught by our software filters
– obscene words with letters substituted to get around the software filters
– semi-literate spelling; we’re not looking for perfection, but people shouldn’t have to struggle to determine the meaning
– uncivil behavior towards other commentators; debate is welcome, schoolyard taunts are not
– incitement to violence
– comments that have nothing to do with the story
– comments that have been pasted across multiple stories
– comments that are unusually long, unless they’re very well written
– excessive use of capital letters

Some of the guidelines for our moderators are hard to define precisely. Mocking of public people can be fair sport, for example, but a moderator that has just approved 30 comments calling someone an idiot can rightly decide that there’s little incremental value in publishing the 31st. When we block comments of this nature, it’s because of issues of repetition, taste or legal risk, not political bias.

Until recently, our moderation process involved editors going through a basket of all incoming comments, publishing the ones that met our standards and blocking the others. (It’s a binary decision: we don’t have the resources to edit comments.)

This was unsatisfactory because it delayed the publication of good comments, especially overnight and at weekends when our staffing is lighter.

Our new process grants a kind of VIP status on people who have had comments approved previously. When you register to comment on, our moderation software tags you as a new user. Your comments go through the same moderation process as before, but every time we approve a comment, you score a point.

Once you’ve reached a certain number of points, you become a recognized user. Congratulations: your comments will be published instantly from now on. Our editors will still review your comments after they’ve been published and will remove them if they don’t meet our standards. When that happens, you’ll lose points. Lose enough points and you’ll revert to new user status.

The highest scoring commentators will be classified as expert users, earning additional privileges that we’ll implement in future. You can see approval statistics for each reader on public profile pages like this, accessed by clicking on the name next to a comment.

It’s not a perfect system, but we believe it’s a foundation for facilitating a civil and rewarding discussion that’s open to the widest range of people. Let me know what you think.


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

Now I know why I’m rarely published. I may not be ignorant, illiterate or rude..just average or boring. At least it’s not because of your elitist attitudes.

Posted by pHenry | Report as abusive

You missed one issue – trolls. It would be good to add a ‘rule’ that censored obvious trolls: rnet)

Seems like the article as already attracted one, but by saying that I’m worried I may trigger the “uncivil behavior” rule.

Posted by nicfulton | Report as abusive

I wholeheartedly agree with your analysis as to what is fit to print vrs. what is not. It is not a matter of censorship or being elitist; it is a matter of whether the submission is civil and/or has any value. I fail to comprehend why there are so many writers who use the opportunity to be uncivil and or aggressive.

Posted by FastBill | Report as abusive

I hope I won’t get ‘nuked’ for this comment, but I’d like to see an improvement on the quality of the stories themselves, if possible.
You say -”Most of our readers are business professionals who value their time highly.” This is descriptive of me, and I sometime I get annoyed reading a story on Reuters that’s not real news (I.E. both new and with minimal importance to anyone…).
In other words, I don’t like being taken for granted as an audience, and I don’t appreciate journalists wasting my time with their (sometime uninformed) opinions rather than real facts.
Reuters is better than most sites I know, but there’s still plenty of room for you to improve, and you need to let your readers help you get better through their comments – as much as possible.

Posted by yr2009 | Report as abusive

Up to now, I have liked commenting. A little creepy to see how you compile user’s comments creating a profile of their opinions. It might have the effect of chilling speech. I like the basic rules about civility but would encourage you to keep censorship to a minimum and to get rid of the user profiles. Privacy and protections matter.

I would also encourage Reuters to not just give us soundbites and to cite the specific study or data relied on in articles. When something looks odd to me, I like to check the source (i.e. – see the specific study cited). If I cannot find the study online because the cite is too vague, I have to doubt the author’s credibility, especially if the data looked skewed at first sight.

Posted by KimoLee | Report as abusive

“I’ve become increasingly concerned about the quality of discourse in comments on news stories on and on other major news sites. On some stories, the “conversation” has been little more than partisans slinging invective at each other under the cloak of anonymity.

I believe our time-challenged, professional readers want to see a more rewarding conversation”

Reuters, you’ve already lost the high ground on this issue by allowing opinion pieces like “America’s Canadian road trip starts today” to appear on your website. The article is little more than a partisan slinging invective under the cloak of journalism. 10/09/23/americas-canadian-road-trip-sta rts-today/

Posted by gmmw | Report as abusive

A totally worthwhile change. I rarely read the comments these days because the signal-to-noise ratio is so low. This should help, although there are ways of gaming this system too.

Obvious additional steps would include allowing user-settable filters so that I only see commentators above a certain threshold; sorting comments by some combination of time and commentator level, rather than strictly by time; delaying low-value comments for longer (the flip side to displaying expert comments immediately); letting users participate in flagging comments and thereby adjusting the commentator’s own level; and implementing a level for people who choose to post under their own names, as verified by a $1 charge against their credit card.

The biggest single danger is that since it is Reuters employees doing the flagging, their own biases will affect their judgment.

Posted by PatrickBowman | Report as abusive

One question:
Why did you not follow the moderation model that many online communities follow, you say that you pay editors to review comments yet you have a large community commenting on stories on Reuters. On most sites volunteer moderation works quite well.
Weirdly people will put quite a lot of work into moderating forums for nothing more than a title, a little authority and a username in red or with a star next to it.

It’ll be interesting to see if this gets past the editors reviewing posts since I’m advocating replacing them with volunteers.

Posted by ThirstyHobo | Report as abusive

Thanks for the thoughtful comments. Patrick, your idea of user-settable filters is already on our to-do list. I don’t think individual bias will be an issue because impartiality is at the heart of everything we do at Reuters, whether it’s reporting or moderating.

ThirstyHobo, we do want to let volunteers take a role in moderation. Our new system is a first step to that as it will allow us to identify the most active members of our community. It hasn’t been easy to get that information previously.

Let me also clarify that, contrary to some reports, we have not ended anonymous comments. You still control the screen name that displays against your comments. I’m of the opinion that we should give people incentives to identify themselves better, so expect to see our process evolve in that direction.

Richard Baum, Global Editor, Consumer Media

Posted by RichardBaum | Report as abusive

It all seems worth a try, however I’d like to caution Reuters and readers regarding filters that can be set by users.


During the run up to the Iraq war when American flags were selling faster than they could be produced, there was a lot of information that should have been questioned that wasn’t. Critical questions and legitimate doubts were buried by an avalanche of popular sentiment or never expressed at all.

It’s easy to discern what the masses believe but they are not necessarily the people who are doing the best thinking or asking the right questions.

Posted by breezinthru | Report as abusive

You guys need to LIGHTEN UP. America currently has ENOUGH censorship and repression going on. When you refuse to post a harmless comment like mine about FAITH discovering “other dimensions,” there is something excessively oppressive about your system.

Posted by Speak_Easy | Report as abusive

“I’m of the opinion that we should give people incentives to identify themselves better, so expect to see our process evolve in that direction.”

This is an unhealthy trend. Anonymity online is essential in order to preserve freedom of speech without having to fear that somebody who dislikes what one says might show up on their dark front porch some night with a baseball bat–or worse. Stop trying to SNOOP AND SURVEILL on every comment that appears online, and just do your job of presenting news or at least reasonably interesting stories. And please STOP trying to twist and shape or manipulate viewer opinions. Just present the stories and let us decide for ourselves. Thank you.

Posted by Speak_Easy | Report as abusive

thank you for this lucid and revealing overview -your hierarchy and jacobs ladder system seems eminently fair – I like the re-edit that some papers offer for comments and the reply option and the plus or minus option -have you considered those ?

Posted by phrage | Report as abusive

The talks look good on surface but what if a reader finds the report/article itself to be provocative? Does these filters apply to your reporters as well??

Posted by 777xxx777 | Report as abusive

Who defines thoughtful?

Posted by superbigmikey | Report as abusive

It’s my belief that censorship however it may be justified is an affront to the American way. I have been ocassionally censored by Reuters but bear no malice. However, I feel that the unvarnished opinion conveys the most information. Anger is without a doubt a valid state of mind and can be conveyed sometimes in only the strongest possible terms. I do not shrink in the face of other’s profanity or anger but rather I find it gives me a clear sense of the depth of passion held by the commentator. The maintenance of politically correct dialog serves only to water down those passions and is therefore rejected by myself and many I know. I always have the option to skip past the diatribe and read on further down the page.


Posted by Doc00001 | Report as abusive

In regarding censorship of posts: This is a private site, and in my opinion Reuters has every right to attempt the control of quality of comments. It seems to me, while being a new user, that ideas aren’t censored here. It also seems in the interest of the site that the way in which the ideas are presented contributes to the interest in the comments themselves.
I’ve participated in other news forums, where after a while, the comments just deteriorate into bashing, insulting, partisanship and inflexibility, rather than a discourse of ideas. I’m seriously thinking that maintaining a public forum in the tradition of “shock/angry” radio or TV, does no one well in the end, and although editing comments has intrinsic dangers (which I’m sure the editors are well aware of) maybe this avenue of exchange will be a slight breath of fresh air. Thanks.

Posted by Madlights | Report as abusive

“The new process, which gives special status to readers whose comments have passed muster in the past, won’t address the anonymity issue, but I do think it is an important step toward a more civil and thoughtful conversation.”


Allowing some posters to comment on articles before their publication is, in my opinion, highly unethical. I’ve seen this amazing phenomenon on Reuters again and again, where some posted comments have time stamps earlier than the time the article was published.

“All animals are equal, except some animals are more equal than others.” — George Orwell

Posted by barberrr | Report as abusive

I sincerely appreciate Reuters desire for propriety and superior quality as to what you make public, and I respect that. However there are times I feel that either the writer, editor, or the management might have a less than impartial agenda on an issue and may not accept an adverse response. You might in those situations consider an appeal process, or am I being naive. Thank you IH

Posted by izzyis1 | Report as abusive

I like the idea of a second window where the uncensored comments can be accessed. That way, there is a record of how well the censors are doing their job. I am supportive of the basic desire to cut out the nonsense; I am just distrustful of the commercial imperatives that might contaminate the process. Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas and to expect employees of Reuters not to downgrade comments which display a greater understanding of the story than their colleagues who wrote it is either naive or disingenuous.

Posted by CubaSupport | Report as abusive

The idea is very good, but I see a problem with the “Report as abusive” tool.
Imagine that we have two distinct readers for very controversial topics, e. g., the whole issue around Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
There may be some readers who use this buttom only to undermine the credibility of comments from the opposite side, although they are not abusive, but just convey an opposite opinion.
I don’t know if that is too much, but you should also monitor the readers that use the “Report as abusive” buttom too much, in order to try to identify why they are doing that.

Posted by Brazilian1 | Report as abusive

Wow…You people don’t want much – do you?? One’s point-of-view is exactly that – One’s point-of-view!! There is way too much of this PC nonsense today!! “Freedom of Expression” is NOT about censorship!!!

Posted by MAKEMYDAY1 | Report as abusive

Hmm. Filter process demonstrates bias. Example: “Shooting could tame tough political rhetoric” article. Comments are allowed for those slinging unsupported accusations of blame at Conservative politicians and commentators while rebuttal is disallowed.

Posted by clr80 | Report as abusive

I agree.

Posted by losconinhum | Report as abusive

I wonder about this approach. The whole point of journalism is to provide thoughtful news, analysis, and sometimes opinion on, at times, very controversial subject matter. For example, when Reuters reports on Terrorism, but then indicates that commenters cannot say anything “racist,” that poses a problem, doesn’t it?

The reason I read the comments section is that I want to see how both sides of an issue frame their arguments. It helps me think more rationally about the world I live in. Commenters who may not agree with the politically or market driven “can’t we all just get along” approach should have their say without the business or editorial side influencing the speech and cutting it off because it might be offensive to some large group of people.

As Ricky Gervais demonstrated so delightfully at the recent Golden Globe awards…there is definitely a time and place for offensive commentary.

Posted by kbeverid | Report as abusive

During the past elections,
I was dismayed to read many of the comments
on Reuters that appeared to be heavily slanted
in favor of certain candidates and viewpoints that happened to agree with Reuters business reporting viewpoint.

It appeared that “campaign operatives”
and/or staunch partisans
were “loading the comments sections”
with political slogans and “rehearsed
talking points” and intelligent discourse
seem to be buried and at times missing from the discussions.

It reflected badly on Reuters and made me question
the objectivity of the censors of the Reuters comments sections.

What is being done to reform this process so that open, honest, intellectual and fact based discussions are preserved and cheap angry partisanship comments without
factual basis are encouraged to find other outlets??!!

Posted by InvestorZ44 | Report as abusive

I am always weary of anyones opinion of what is relevant and what is not…although I do agree that some posts are just plain ignorant..but then again it was their opinion however badly they presented it…I dont mind weeding thru the insane to the mundane to the downright moronic postings I have had to endure on other news sites ..but I can live with them because I have a scroll button on my mouse..But what I cannot stand is rotton stinky old spam you know the ones “(This may be off topic but)” you know the ones I mean long as you can keep those at bay I say let the other ones have their say no matter how stupid it is, after all they are part of the public….and stupid or not they deserve a say….

Posted by akita96th | Report as abusive

Just so the filter-person doesn’t just take advantage to allow only one-sided mud slinging.


“Dear mudslinger:

We get it that you are brainwashed to believing the other side are complete morons and your side has all the answers. If you have something constructive and responsible to say in a civil manner then please do so.”

Posted by vich | Report as abusive

Reuters is not a democratically elected government news-source. It is a privately funded outlet with a set of parameters it feels promotes an environment of discussion. Personally my few posts are blatently anti-big business. as well as anti big government and probably for the most part anti-Reuters. Still my posts have been seen here. I think the freedom here is in that we can choose to participate in a recognized net publication, or not. Personally, it is an opportunity to express my opinion to the opposition.

Posted by bleachman | Report as abusive

I feel you can have any policy you want; however, the policy is only credible if you also apply it consumption of content as well, meaning you would need to screen your readers for the same characteristics. For example, if you do not want ignorant people posting comments, you should not allow ignorant people to read your articles. If you ‘sell’ a product to a person, I feel you have provided them an inherent priviledge to provide feedback on what you sold them, regardless of what that feedback is.

Posted by mpk | Report as abusive

I feel that there is a definitive slant on what is posted. Where does Reuters originate? Libya has a greater relation to Europe than America. Maybe I am taking slight offense because I don’t understand the format. I will look at other editions @ europe or England and see how they are addressed.

Posted by dr.bob | Report as abusive

You clearly use other filters, as well. Over months of time, I have written some comments critical of corporate power. I also ask why so many of those responsible for our economic woes get off scott free in the press. My letters all have the tone you observe in this one. I have wondered why Reuters often has not printed them.

Then, a little research showed that Reuter’s corporate officers all sit on boards of banking or investment institutions. Reuters is part of the vast interlocking corporate ownership club. Mystery solved.

Of course, you probably won’t print this either.

Posted by psittacid | Report as abusive

I genuinely don’t mean to sound negative, but in my opinion the whole concept of readers’ comments is wrong-headed — and all the issues you’ve outlined above are the result of pursuing an inherently flawed idea.

I visit your site because you are professionals who provide mostly unbiased and well written information about current events. Your readers, on the other hand, are people whose writing is of no interest to me or to anyone else. If others wanted to read their comments, they would have successful careers as journalists and wouldn’t be using your comment field as the means by which to transmit their work.

There are countless online venues for people to engage in open discourse on current events and countless other topics. Most of these deteriorate into vulgar nonsense almost immediately, which is all well and good for people who want to read such things. But why in the world should a professional news agency publish the work of thousands of unknown and mostly uninformed laymen on a daily basis?

I think it’s just a bad idea from start to finish.

Posted by GregRoss | Report as abusive

“When we block comments of this nature, it’s because of issues of repetition, taste or legal risk, not political bias.”

Legal risk, such as what? We live in America, protected by the First Amendment. You especially are not liable for the content published for your users. I don’t agree with this, it sounds more like an excuse. I know I’m new here, but I am also a web developer and I know my rights thereof. I agree that calling someone an “idiot” however many times is lame, old and just not what users want to read, but claiming to remove those types of excessive comments because of legal risks is simply not a valid excuse in my book. Supporting the right of free speech, of competent conversation, regardless of how pointed it may be is our duty as Americans, but simply filtering out the lame comments for the purpose of a high standard of content is something completely different.


Posted by cjohnweb | Report as abusive

Nobody reads the comments anyway. I mean, most of the time it’s just people screaming in the wind. It’s a release device. I would not treat it as anything more than that.

Posted by swagva | Report as abusive

I wanted to understand why my contribution hadn’t been passed. There is no feedback to the contributor, even though logged in, detailing why comments have been filtered.
Initially I thought it might have been due to a browser failure. So I tried again and realising the second time that it must have been filtered and followed the link here on policy re filtering.
Apparently, my attempt to humorously juxtapose the statements made by those ridiculing Chavez for postulating socio-ecological reasons with those who believe life begins with intelligent design and ends with the Rapture is considered a contravention. Even though I didn’t use rude words, hate speech, capitalisation, etc.
However, contrast that with one that made it through immediately prior.
…”Maybe the guy has syphilis”.
Oh yes, I can see how that conforms to the guide lines; definitely a well informed business comment.
No doubt this unfavourable observation will add one to the filter for me. I wonder if it would be so on the Reuters UK site.
Inevitably, such a filter will have a positive feedback loop and eventually will achieve a dead pool of similar ideas that will reflect the desired readership, who will be content with all the ‘sensible’ like minded opinions reflecting back at them, filtered of the undesirable impurities of differing thought.
This may in part help explain why US citizens find it hard to understand the opinions and motivations of many around the world.

Posted by Catweasel | Report as abusive

Good call by the Staff at Rueters. There’s nothing more than reading insults and ignorance in the comments section. I know that when I add a link, it’s to build on the story, not degrade it. Civil discourse should be the rule of all good Americans.

Posted by gfrc2 | Report as abusive

I am also LarryinParker. You recently exercised your option to block me from the site. I accept your judgement. But, I do not understand your acceptance of comments from Verela, USAPragmatist, and NobleKin. They lob both personal and general insults (tea bagger, bagger, party of no, Republicon, etc., even though they do not know the political affiliation of their target. They ignore the content of the articles that they make their posts under. If you look into their collective comments, they tend to blindly spew the same pro-liberal, pro-Obama, pro-Democrat partisan theme. Be fair in your evaluations.

Posted by mytwocentsworth | Report as abusive

I like it.

Posted by Prepared | Report as abusive

I like this moderation; unless of course my comment isn’t approved! I am a writer though and so will comment more now that I have read this. I find it difficult to moderate comments on my blog; I don’t get as many as I would like but try to be as generous as possible. If they aren’t offensive to anyone they stay. I can take criticism and even reply to it! I hope I add to my ‘score’ for writing this!

Posted by Mike10613 | Report as abusive

I would be interested in finding out why my comments have not been posted. I am a former college grad, a nurse, and I feel that my comments meet all of the requirements. I have read some of the comments rom other posters and I believe that my comments are acceptable and worthwhile. Please, let me know what you think…

Posted by dannakt777 | Report as abusive

This policy represents the defeat of the internet. In the beginning, comments were freely offered to visitors, regardless of what they had to say. The press/media initially suffered as blogs became more popular for this very reason. No longer did the commoner have to address a name in a high office and merely hope their words would be heard.

But today, even the blogging has been assimilated into the corpo-gov media and once again, we are left to write to unknown censors in high offices and merely hope our words are worthy of their holy approval.

Posted by sincityq | Report as abusive

I do not support freedom of speech.

However, I do support freedom of discussion and the cross examination of the disclosed factual evidence.

Unfortunately, most “Western” media outlets do not allow certain political opinions and/or assertions for certain stories that are historically incorrect and/or falsified and/or completely bias, even if those assertions and/or opinions are backed by factual evidence, remain on topic and do not contain insults and/or profanity.

Has everyone read 1984 by George Orwell?…….I do hope so.

Posted by WNS818 | Report as abusive

Why does Reuters remove comments that are truthful? For instance, if someone makes a factually truthful comment — that the Qu’ran itself requires Muslims to kill non-Muslims, and states that Islam will be at peace only when it is the world’s sole religion — that is not racism or hate speech, or uncivil in any way. I did not asset that all Muslims believe this … many may not. I merely stated that the Qu’ran calls for it, which it does. It is a mere statement of fact which should not offend anyone. So why remove statements that are not offensive, and state factual truths? Or, does Reuters consider the truth itself is offensive?

Posted by Billw13175 | Report as abusive

Without seeing the “banned” coments we won’t know what the BIAS is here, but we can guess.

Posted by DickTuck | Report as abusive

I have chosen the name Tony BLiar because I thought he was very representative of how we now are in what the Hindus call the KaliYuga – The Age of LIES. He and G.W. Bush lied to take us into Iraq (WMDs)…the media, now arguably the Fourth Arm of Government is engaged not in educating, and ennobling society – but rather to Manufacture Consent – to brainwash. Mind Control by Media is now a common part of Social Engineering in a Corporatocracy. Mussolini said that Fascism should be called by it’s more correct name – CORPORATISM. Well, what do we expect when all the Media is owned and controlled by Corporations and their Oligarch Masters? As JFK said, If you make Peaceful Revolution Impossible you make Violent Revolution Inevitable. I think he was right, and very sadly, this is probably what will occur. Though I think it will not go well for the Oligarchs. They may “think” that they have it all under control, but MANY insiders, in the military, even in government, when push comes to shove and the evil greedy oligarch go too far, their will be mass conversions happening rapidly in last minute attacks of SANITY. The New World Order will NOT succeed.

Posted by TonyBliar | Report as abusive

Actually, the editor i think is trying to safe guard themself from further embrassment due to lack of skills of their own reporters/journalist. So, these guys would only be publishing comments that are favourable for reuters and those that critizies would be removed. hahahhahahha, not a bad way old man, to save your own ass.

Posted by rajeshnayyar198 | Report as abusive

starb4dawn wrote “Who are you to decide what has value for others? I find the whole tone to be arrogant and not something I will waste my time reading or posting on. To bad just might be your loss.”

If starb4dawn wants to tell everyone that he/she doesn’t want to waste his/her time commenting reading or posting in that comment…why did he/she do just exactly that?? Doesn’t make sense to me.

Posted by Ashau | Report as abusive

I have been posting on McClatchey for a while now, and I disagree with most of the stories they post, and so far, I might have had one or two posts banned out of maybe, a hundred. Calling someone a name usually means you cannot find adequate words in your vocabulary to make a legitimate point.

Posted by connman | Report as abusive


This is a great very good idea, specially the part where you continually review the comments for people that have already earned the “VIP” status.
I have dealt in the pass with the problem of “bot” commenter and that can be really bad in a website.

Best regards and keep the good work,
Simple Guy

Posted by SimpleGuy | Report as abusive