There has been quite a lot of chatter the past few days about newspaper comments and what to do about them. If you're like me you probably rarely read the comments in the Star Tribune or Pioneer Press, let along CNN or other major media outlets. I do occasionally read them but always walk away shaking my head at the insanity. This isn't to say there are no good comments on newspaper sites, but when people are calling sources pedophiles, as Dave Bauer mentions in his recent column, something is wrong.
Newspapers are put in a tough place though, they need traffic to sell advertisements and comments are one way to get pageviews. Yet unmoderated comments don't work and moderated comments lead to calls of censorship. What are the papers supposed to do. Here are a few ideas I've considered while reading these articles.
- Pay to comment. How about $5 per year to comment. Pay walls are annoying but if your giving your content away for free why not make people to pay for the right to participate. Even better why not charge $5 and then for every 5 comments that are starred/faved/voted up by fellow paid commentors you get a dollar to go toward next years fee. Take it even further and for every 5 comment flagged/voted down by fellow commentors you get a dollar taken away from that pot. If enough comments get voted down you have to pay the difference to rejoin next year. If you get more than $5 in votes up you can choose a charity the newspaper donates the excess to.
- Disable comments but actively seek out and link to blogs and other sources that comment on your stories.
- Recruit local bloggers as commentors and moderators. Local bloggers are your best source for insightful comments and they also have experience dealing with comments that cross the line.
The largest issue I see with newspaper comments is that those who can add a lot to their discussions are writing on local blogs. When I want to comment on a newspaper story I either use Twitter or blog about it here. I don't comment on their site because the quality of the comments are so poor. It's not fun to comment on a story only to have the next comment be someone claiming Obama's birth certificate is a forgery or posting rude comments about Michelle Bachman.
Personally I see forcing commentors to pay to comment as being the best solution, it's one reason a site as large as Metafilter has grown so successfully. People who are willing to pay to comment are usually going to add something useful, even if all they pay is $5.
Any thoughts on the issue, let me know I may not be a newspaper tycoon, but I love a good discussion.