Adovcatus Commenti


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?

Notification to: @sydette, @andrew_coral, @Egrdina, @greenie, @hinschauer, @njisaf, @smcnally, @thebestsophist @Burgos, @colinmegill


This is really interesting Christoph. I’m wondering what other jobs and workflow changes could be implemented for more community minded journalism?


This is a great idea, but there are 3 issues: 1) the time it takes to do an argmapping that is not collectively generated is a lot, 2) argmapping of large posts with many mixed ideas and pros/cons and issues is subjective and that leads to third most important problem that an argmapping generated by an expert often is not legitimate. That is why the current solution is to collaboratively create the argmapping with facilitators. But the previous approach has been successfully applied only in simulations in mini-publics and e-deliberations in which the organizers invest a lot of resources in engagement, not in the wild in the comment section of online news. We are planning to try it out in our next experiment. The class of tools that is designed to do this is called CCSAV, collaborative computer supported argument visualization tools. CSAV are really old, CCSAV are more recent but insofar they have been so cumbersome that they have been used only in simulations.


This would be a valuable role. As you’ve detailed it, the Advocatus Commenti would enrich current conversations and also be a source of ideas for items to be published as follow-up and related pieces.

Your note here deserves especial attention:

There need to be more ways to highlight and surface comments of note in-line so that, even without further treatment, worthwhile points are not easily buried. With or without a dedicated Advocatus Commenti role or additional transcription and publishing, highlighting worthwhile comments helps create the kind of virtuous cycle we need to provide incentive for thoughtfulness. It also helps deëmphasize less-thoughtful comments which removes some of the incentive for rudeness and incivility.

Community Management positions, in general, can be difficult to fund. A specialization like the Advocatus Commenti would be more so. The work Coral Project is doing to show the value in richness of conversation and community will help change that. @sydette notes workflow changes that might streamline this work. @paolo notes the benefits of distributing tasks around mapping arguments. There are related points made in the research just released I plan to follow-up on another thread. All of these would help bring the role you define to life. Using the role as you describe also as a source of new stories for publishing will help, too: it can turn the entire back catalog of conversation into a trove of new material in addition to the comment section.