comment tips from Italy….

I’m in Perugia, Italy this week for an international journalism festival. Here’s a piece I wrote for the festival’s magazine:

As a newspaper reporter, I can’t resist any and all tips for delivering news online, so in reviewing a Thursday morning panel discussion entitled, “The news frontier: engaging the community,” I’m going to offer examples of what organizations like Media Wales or Huffington Post have done to keep in touch with readers (and keep sane while doing so).

Commenters’ database: Josh Young, formerly of The Huffington Post, said the news organization – which relies heavily on non-professional contributors – launched a database to keep track of its commenters. The database watched how often they were “favourited” by other members of the community, how often their comments were deemed profane, how often what they said was useful…. Ultimately it painted not only a picture of who used their site and how, but during last year’s Gulf Oil Spill, the database proved helpful for editors quickly sifting through high-quality submitted content and not-so-high-quality submitted content, based on the community members’ previous relationship with the Post.

Make community members feel like they have an innovative, transformative role: And that shouldn’t just be a make-nice sort of feeling, said Paola Bonomo, head of online services for Vodafone Italia. She pointed out crowdsourcing not only has incredible potential, it’s worked for news organizations like The Guardian, who offered up all the paperwork on the MPs’ expense scandal to readers, allowing them to help out with coverage by sifting through the documents, too. Media Wales online communities editor Ed Walker said his Cardiff-based organization has relied on readers to help populate online maps that show traffic delays, and during an election at the moment the organization is asking audience members to send in pictures and items about local candidates on the campaign trail.

Keep your commenting governance in-house: It’s tempting to use platforms like Facebook instead of editing readers’ comments in-house – perhaps it’s the lack of anonymity that makes for fewer “trolls,” for example, Bonomo said. Young argued, however, the only reason to hand over commenting to an outside organization would be an absolute belief running comments through Facebook, for example, is going to generate a more viral sharing of your product. In general, he said, organizations need to build in-house commenting systems and keep control of their relationship with their audience.

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