The “Adovcatus Commenti” is a new role for the community manager staff. Her job is to collect standpoints and argumentation from the comment section. She actively engages in the conversation and asks for reasons and rationale behind standpoints and criticism. She asks critical questions and notes the answers to get a good understanding.
From that input she creates a list of positions and argumentation that is publicly accessible. That way she can refer to it in further conversations with other commenters. She can ask: “Is there any difference between your standpoint and no. 15 from the list?”
But crafting this list of arguments is just the first part of her job. The second part is a discussion with the author of the article. In that discussion the Advocatus Commenti tries to present the standpoints and argumentations from the list. She tries her best to act in place of the commenters she interviewed. This creates an opportunity for the author to answers all the questions and criticism in a structured and efficient way. The interview may last less than an hour. And after that, the work is done. She can move on to the next article and be done with the issue.
The discussion between the Advocatus Commenti and author gets transcribed and published as an addition to the original article. This is a very important point! If the conversation between author and commenter takes place in the comment section, nearly no one will ever notice it, because it gets buried in the comments. The discussion with the AC on the other hand can be placed very visible, so every reader who joins later will see it.
If an author writes one article per week and the Advocatus Commenti can do two articles per day, the newspaper organization has to employ one Advocatus Commenti for every fourteen authors. Does that sound correct?
The benefits of the Advocatus Commenti are fourfold:
The voice of commenters is heard (and therefore comments will become more articulate and less contagious). Good comments are rewarded by being acknowledged by the AC.
The author is held accountable for her writing. So the community becomes a controlling instance that can correct bad journalism (fifth power). This control mechanism might work as subsitute for the lost trust in journalism and might win some back in the long run.
The author has an efficient way to publicly – and very visible – respond to criticism without reading the actual comments (and get burnt by the aggression). The discussion with the AC is respectful and has an defined end, so there is no fear of drowning in an endless, fruitless conversation.
Readers of the article also do not have to wade into the comment section and deal with the white noise of multiple conversation. The transcribed discussion with the AC is more pleasant to read, because it is more dense and respectful, but still manages to address questions and criticism, that the reader might have himself.
###So, what do you think? Should journalism add the Advocatus Commenti to the team?