Readers on Mute!

Recode, Reuters, Popular Science, The Week, Mic, The Verge, and USA Today’s FTW have all shut off reader comments in the past year. Here’s how they’re all using social media to encourage reader discussion.

At the end of 2014, publishers began turn mute on with reader’s comments. Within a few weeks of each other, Recode, Mic, The Week, and Reuters all announced that they were closing down their comment sections.
Popular Science succinctly wrote: “Uncivil comments not only polarized readers, but they often changed a participant’s interpretation of the news story itself.”
A vocal minority of commenters shape public opinion. Flamers, spambots and trolls influence the content on the page. This minority can alter the general readerships opinion. This in turn impugns or even kills the editorial voice of the publication.
So how do publications manage the growing social voice of their readership? if they retreat into a editorial citadel, are they not afraid of becoming marginalized?
There are safe and structured ways of balancing social with editorial content. One way is to embed published content into social. This is what Facebook has advocated in their Instant Articles program. Content lives in Facebook.
Using Facebook as a publishing partner can be a slippery slope for an editorial publication. While it maybe a quick (or instant) fix on audience reach. It is difficult to repatriate those eyeball balls back to the safety of your news portal.
Many pundit would go as far as saying that editorial is an artifact of the past. Alexis Lloyd at The New York Times wrote boldly that the concept of an “article” maybe outdated.
Alexis writes: “Creating news ... means considering the time scales of our reporting in much more innovative ways ... documents should have ways of reacting to new reporting or information; and we should consider the consumption behavior of our users ...”
How can you balance the new social behaviour of readers and the expert editorial voice? Storify and other platforms allow social to be “cherry picked” and added to editorial. Is this the answer?
It is a safe content strategy but it is simply using social media as another journalistic source. This does little to promote the audience’s voice or the reach of the publication.
I want to go back to Alexis article in the NYTimes. She advocates three solutions to reboot editorial content.
ENHANCED TOOLS: to go beyond hyper links and add encoded, tagged, embeddable, contextual information into an article. “An article could contain not only its top-level narrative, but also a number of entry points into deeper background, context or analysis.”
SUMMARIZATION AND SYNTHESIS: If you treat articles as singular monolith, it’s very hard to combine knowledge or information. How do you “make [news] accessible, reusable, and remixable after the fact.”
ADAPTIVE CONTENT: How to develop omni-channel content? Full form features through to one-liners on a Apple watch. The article need to be deconstructed into parts of a whole.
Unquestionable, incumbent media is challenged. Alexis Lloyd correctly points this out. So what is the future of the article? What tools take use beyond the existing format?
We need to evolve the traditional beginning, middle and end of a news story. We need to retain control of the content but allow for this content to be broken into module. These modules need to work as social hooks to drawn in audience.
We cannot let the social parts (which lead to content fragmentation) adversely effect the integrity of the story. But we need the social parts to allow for audience participation on key ideas.
Nate Silvers’ website FiveThirtyEight facilitated micro-blogging among multiple journalists. This was one narrative presented in bite sized social portions. Each post could be discussed on Twitter or Facebook.
This allows for the reader to have a voice in social media without hijacking the editorial media on the site.
The final challenge is to allow all the micro-content to then act as a promotional channel to drive the social audience back to the structured content on your site. Move them from micro-discussions to a macro view of the story.
Well thank you so much for your time today @ImpulseEconomy discussing trends in media. We look forward to continuing this discussion and diving deeper into the challenges and opportunities that social media presents.