For the Record

Dean Wright on Ethics, Innovation and Values

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 Reuters.com 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 Reuters.com 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 Reuters.com, 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.

Comments

Are you going to moderate my comments if I tell you this is censorship, and a terrible idea?

Posted by JackBQuick | Report as abusive
 

Filter process? I don’t agree. There’s no freedom of speech!

Posted by rainbow1004 | Report as abusive
 

I was a little set back a little about the approach Reuters was taking but after reading more about the review process I think it makes sense. We are all prone to responding to columns or comments that push one of our hot buttons. We all can use a calm editor once in a while.

Posted by MajorMinor | Report as abusive
 

I’m not sure if your software is working or not. My contributions are new to Reuters and the software indicates almost all of my comments have been removed, when they haven’t.

Also, I have a lot of “reported” and if what I am posting is viewed as abuse, I’d have to just paste poems about fluffy sheep!

Posted by MajorMinor | Report as abusive
 

i dont like this…you are picking and choosing who gets to say what. Unfortunately i dont see a way around the spammers and people who are not interested in meaningful debate. I will let you know if i do.

Posted by theylie | Report as abusive
 

Hey folks, it’s Reuters’ web site. If you are a guest in someone’s home, you abide by their rules.

Posted by AZWarrior | Report as abusive
 

And again we have even Reuters that is having problems with posts. I would ask Richard Baum to read some of our countries newspapers that were in print during our countries founding. If you look closely it was full of comments. An example would be perhaps of Benjamin Franklin, (who by the way did me a favor by inventing bi-focals.)

Franklin was a Loyalist. He did not wish to see the United States at war with mother England.

Benjamin Franklin had been chosen by the Pennsylvania colonial legislature to represent the colonies before the crown. If the colonies were pissed, or sick of paying unfair taxes (or as was more often the case, not paying them), it was Franklin’s job to let the crown know.

Unfortunately, Ben really loved the crown. Right before the revolution, he had been trying, unsuccessfully, to convince the king to take back Pennsylvania from the Penn family, and put it under royal control.

So if you ‘censor’, and this is what you are doing, you do a great disservice to what is great.

It will come I feat to what Disqus is doing as well. It is too easy to moderate and not allow free discourse, even it the discourse is wrong.

Leave the comments alone. Do not moderate them. For in the comments those who understand what is happening will control the theme and take that person to task. I have see this happen several times on posts that are not moderated.

If you need to close the comment section after a fixed number of days or a number of posts.

Let the people post what they want. Elect as a bona fide news organization, to take it to another level.

Example: A lot of people angry over Congress’ inability and some inflmatory comments have been posted. Create a new comment section on: How did the constructive criticism help you understand today’s Congress?

Of course some will argue the point: What constructive criticism. Which is exactly what a news organization should do. Create an outlet for everyone no matter how angry or upset.

Reuters has been a very reliable authoritative news organization. Do not throw that away in moderating comments.

Posted by windmillchaser1 | Report as abusive
 

Reuters is not independent, unbiased nor is it disinterested as it should be. It is a mega corporation with economic interests tied to its news reporting. It is news reporting has to be seriously discounted.

Posted by deadmanspoint | Report as abusive
 

Bravo, Reuters! I left social networking sites for the very same reasons you put parameters on the content of comments. I don’t like to read hundreds of inane and poorly constructed thoughts by people that are just venting their frustrations. I will certainly remain a loyal reader knowing that only credible, considerate and well thought out comments will appear on your site.

Posted by chancefavors... | Report as abusive
 

Other then vulgarity or the inciting of violence, let the comments fly. We can skip reading the garbage.

Everyone should have a chance to have their voice heard though.

Posted by BradCS | Report as abusive
 

Why does your censorship take sooooo sloooooooooowwww???

I have posted comments that take several hours at best to show. This only inhibits the dialog among readers/posters. At this time, your censorship method deserves an F+.

Posted by ManOfMettle | Report as abusive
 

I just made a very intelectural post with NO vulgar words and nothing but respect and it needs “approval?” I will never read this web source again; nor post here again. I prefer to go to sites that have open dialogue. How sad…

Posted by Integrated5150 | Report as abusive
 

Censorship is a very bad idea.

Posted by Osirismen | Report as abusive
 

I agree in principle, provided that what is being censored (yes, of course it is censorship) is form and not content. We all have the choice to go post somewhere else, where foul language and personal insult takes the place of articulate argument. Also, let’s not forget, that freedom of speech is not an absolute right and it applies only to restrictions imposed by state’s authority. In any case, to paraphrase a fundamental Supreme Court opinion: freedom of speech does not give anyone the right to shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater.

Posted by 112233 | Report as abusive
 

i’m trying to comment on an article (http://www.reuters.com/article/comments  /idUSTRE80J25K20120121). I don’t think my comment is offensive, i’m just disagreeing with article’s premise. And I don’t even oppose the view, i just don’t agree with the reasoning given. There is no rude language.

I hope my comment is not being suppressed because I disagree. Freedom of speech is not only a journalist’s prerogative, we deserve the same.

Posted by JaneQ | Report as abusive
 

GARBAGE – censorship. Can’t stand the heat close it down

Posted by maximum | Report as abusive
 

This is your website and I have no objections to your
rules as long as they are not biased.

Posted by domerguy | Report as abusive
 

As others, have posted a thoughtful yet critical post that took time, energy, and grit out of my day to do so. Not posting it removes me as a candidate for considering further ‘stories’ on the Reuters site. Censoring opposing opinion, which is obviously what this policy gives license to do without anyone but the poster knowing it happened, is problematic for an international news agency that wishes to remain a major player in the industry, whether others are doing it or not, which is one reason The Guardian and Huffington Post are blazing ahead of the pack. Looking forward….

Posted by Iconicologist | Report as abusive
 

Well, I must say that I have come to believe that the First Amendment is probably the single most important piece of our democracy. Your blatant attempt to filter and control commentary on news issues is a clear and reprehensible violation of the First Amendment. You should be embarrassed to call yourself a member of the free press.

Posted by lawdoc | Report as abusive
 

I have just posted a comment with an article why I think the author is wrong. I have taken care to make my points clear, and I was in no way abusive towards him. Will Reuter’s censor it? At least it will still be on my Facebook page.

Posted by lcyw20 | Report as abusive
 

Seems to be a reasonable approach and if it stops abuse and unfair comment or innacurate comment then I am in favour.
I hope that linkage with comment on other articles is permitted as this sometimes gives credence to an argument or exposes contradictory statements to an argument.
I also note that being in the UK now seems to be a bar on commentary on Reuters US??? Also, some of your article ‘closing for comment’ times are quite arbitrary and with very short time scales. typically the Airbus 380 article on cracks in the wing structure (just one an example) which closed for comment as I was about to make one!

Posted by TommyUK1 | Report as abusive
 

I totally agree with the concern for the tragic descent of public dialog these days and especially on these comment sections; but if you choose and pick only what suits your fancy; it’s isn’t a valued discourse even though you may have some of the riff raff. Poor concept. I will find little use in reading you comments section if they are filtered through your paradigm. For you to subjectively determine what is appropriate or not is no longer an accurate picture of the spectrum of comment. Many of your readers a mature to handle it. Thanks, daddy, for messing up a formally good news outlet.

Posted by Chub | Report as abusive
 

I’ve noticed that in the last two articles I commented on — both dealing with the free market approach to healthcare, and written by CEOs in the healthcare industry — my comments were never posted.

Considering the nature of the subject, the fact they seemed to receive no comments at all was a bit odd.

Both my comments were critical of a marketing approach to healthcare, which I believe is the wrong approach, but the healthcare industry in this country has a strong backing and would not have like what I said.

I do not consider this to be a coincidence.

While you seem to have “loosened up” somewhat in terms of your heavy censorship, on some other articles you clearly have a long way to go to achieve what I consider a reasonably balanced viewpoint.

For example, I consider Bloomberg to have a reasonably balanced policy on comments. They review before posting, but there is a very high likelihood of critical comments being posted.

Perhaps you could use a similar model.

Being able to see and read what others think about a particular subject is an important reason for having a news website, and censorship defeats this purpose, as well as destroying your credibility as a news source.

Your guidelines stated above appear to be reasonable, but clearly you are not implementing them as advertised.

PseudoTurtle
CPA/MBA

Posted by Gordon2352 | Report as abusive
 

A better system would be to allow readers to rate the comments of others. Publish everything, but the garbage would be moved to the bottom of the list. Good comments would float to the top.

But I do not believe you will do this. You really want to censor comments, don’t you?

Posted by jim_aes | Report as abusive
 

Typical of liberal biased news organizations “.Lets see if we like what they say .”

Posted by fizzo | Report as abusive
 

If you are going to censure then should provide the author with “what” is being censured so they can re-write. Do you censure ‘quoted’ material? Even if the original is given note? Do you censure ! marks … just what are you excluding? The very general list you provide is fine for those who want nothing more than ad hominem content but for people who post for proper purposes, it leaves a lot to be desired. Thank you.

Posted by RogerDane | Report as abusive
 

If (and of course this won’t help unless it is actually “allowed” and seen) you browse to :
http://www.reuters.com/profile/your posting name here then you can see if your posts have been summarily removed or if you have been charged with (gasp) “abuse!” Remember, if you are called abusive (and all that means is someone hit the abuse button or a couple did, which could be collusion actually) then your posts might not make it. I don’t think I like this process. Elitism mixed with ‘popular’ versus the ‘unpopular’ … means you have about a 33% chance of getting posted.

Posted by RogerDane | Report as abusive
 

This is soo annoying and patronizing. “We” are to be ragged as to whether we meet “approval” before our comments are published. This is a double standard.

Posted by scwiggle | Report as abusive
 

Come on Reuters, quit beating around the bush and just say it. Your moderators are censors that only let through what they deem politically correct.

Posted by RonPaulSucks | Report as abusive
 

I can understand if something is balantly offensive or abusive or if it is inflamatory towards another poster but otherwise everyone’s opinion matters not just your “business professionals who highly value there time” as I am sure most of us do! and I am sure they know how to quickly scan and read what they prefer.

Posted by Misty11 | Report as abusive
 

One more step toward a media we can be ashamed of.

Posted by savethaland | Report as abusive
 

You dont want honest oppinions on what the real people think and feel. Just the people that think like you do. SWEET!

Posted by ddowdy | Report as abusive
 

So sarcasm is forboten then?

Posted by beep_BEEEEEP | Report as abusive
 

@fizzo What evidence do you have that Reuters has a liberal bias? From what I’ve seen, they don’t censor content based on the political sentiment expressed (as evidenced by the fact that your comment was approved).

And correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t radical conservative groups like the Family Research Council openly advocate for increased government censorship of content they deem “offensive” with the help of Republican lawmakers and presidents who appoint “conservatives” to the Federal Censorship Commission?

Holy hypocracy, Batman!

That said, I’m definitely NOT a fan of this censorship policy that Reuters has chosen to imploy. It is not befitting a respectable news organization that purports to support freedom of expression. I continue to hope that they will eventually realize this policy is wrong and reverse it. We’re not journalists and we’re not publishing articles. We’re readers who are commenting on stories that have already been published.

Posted by KrisCraig | Report as abusive
 

Censorship concerns aside, this “points” system of yours does not appear to be working. I’ve been posting approved comments for months now and I’m still forced to wait for “moderation” before my comments appear.

How much longer do I have to demonstrate that I contribute value to these discussions before the restrictions on my free speech are loosened?

Posted by KrisCraig | Report as abusive
 

Everyone opinion is valid unless the pre-auditors decide your not valid. These post are rigged they don’t like it they don’t post it.

No democracy or freedom of speech on this site.

Posted by EyeTweaks | Report as abusive
 

reuters had my respect for over 60 years, notice i said ‘had’! i’ll read your articles, with a lot more skepticism, and a lot less faith!!!!!!!!

Posted by bearfoot | Report as abusive
 

This action by Reuters confirms my suspicion that the liberal media “spins” the news with the intent of manipulating public opinion for their own agenda. (They probably won’t post this…)

Posted by Chauffeur | Report as abusive
 

Quoting from your article.

“It’s rewarding, sometimes even exhilarating, to see the way our audience builds on our coverage.”

Wow, “exhilarating” (even)… you gotta get out of the newsroom more often and get a lot more family time!

Posted by ConnorVlakancic | Report as abusive
 

Keep your censored news and feedback. Have fun in the unemployment line.

Posted by Keoni | Report as abusive
 

I like a good debate and sometimes that involves descriptions that look suspiciously like name calling. I like name calling. I even like cursing. It makes what you say A little less ambiguous. Sorry if it’s offensive to some but when it is accompanied by clear logic and reason it’s really awesome. Like how in the world can you respond to a typical Santorum comment about women (which he is not) without the overwhelming urge to use epithet or expletive. Really hard to express how abysmally ignorant the guy is. (this will probably get censored)

Posted by Gwaldabi | Report as abusive
 

Reuters “news” articles are often nothing but commentary. DO we the public get a chance to review the “story” before it gets published? No way. Face it, the Reuters editors don’t like the instaneous criticism to their interpretation of facts, or the biased representation of those facts. Real journalism is lost because writers/reporters are overwhelming left-leaning. The public is the loser.

Posted by richarttow | Report as abusive
 

If mention history and direct civil rights abuse is also forbiden, then editing and publish love stories is what to expect of this institution.

Posted by TheLionScribe | Report as abusive
 

I like the new rules. I have a psychology project that sometimes explains Reuters stories.

The nonsense and filth posted makes my message, explaining suicide clusters for instance, hard to find and read.

If any of the moderators have a computer at home or children in high school, college, they should have the free information from my nine year psychology project.

Email every one you work with this URL, VisionAndPsychosis.Net

Posted by LKTucker | Report as abusive
 

Pres Obama PLEASE be specific. What alternate energy sources are you talking about. Be specific . Steve Chu your Secretary of Energy has and is squandering hundreds millions of Tax dollars on new battery technologies . There isn’t one, unless he can change the Atomic Weight of the elements . Example can he change the atomic weight of Lithium which id used in the Toyota hybrid vehicles.. No he cannot.
No one can. So what has Steve Chu in mind to replace gasoline , squander more tax dollars on batteries or solar power . both are inefficient compared to burning fossil fuel .
.. My advice Mr. President fire Dr. Chu, he is a paper academic and lacking CS (common sense), and PLEASE be specific when you talk about solutions. What about looking at fuel cells a true source of energy

Posted by GalacticCat | Report as abusive
 

It would be encouraging if Reuters would at least notify us when our novice comments have been rejected. After three days I assume a post will not be published but I have no way of knowing why, exactly. But I’ll keep plugging away, at least for a while, because the level of commentary here is refreshing by comparison to what is found on some other sites.

Posted by ChicagoFats | Report as abusive
 

Yes, I agree…Al-

Posted by AlfredSchrader | Report as abusive
 

While you seem to have “loosened up” somewhat in terms of your heavy censorship, on some other articles you clearly have a long way to go to achieve what I consider a reasonably balanced viewpoint.
For example, I consider Bloomberg to have a reasonably balanced policy on comments. They review before posting, but there is a very high likelihood of critical comments being posted.
apartment shanghai for rent

Posted by guestp | Report as abusive
 

”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.
shanghai apartment

Posted by guestp | Report as abusive
 

haha nice one

Posted by mbragi | Report as abusive
 

Post Your Comment

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 http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
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