Beyond Comments


This is where we’re discussing our event Beyond Comments: Building Better Conversations, co-hosted by the MIT Media Lab Future of News Initiative.

If you’re attending, please tell us below:

• Who are you?
• Why are you attending the event?
• What are you hoping to get from the event?

And anything else you’d like to share about community, comments, journalism and more.

I’m looking forward to seeing you there! If you aren’t attending, please tell us what you’d like to see at a comments-related event.


Good morning Andrew,

I am Lisa Skelly, Director of Client Services for ICUC Social. I am excited to attend to listen to and contribute to the conversation in relation to the changes in the publishing industry. We serve several clients in the industry, so understanding the needs in the industry is critical for our team. I would like to like to walk away with a consensus of how others in the industry feel about commenting, do others feel there is a need for community building, and how publishers feel they can monetize commenting as the industry transitions. In addition, how other organizations value the use of social and how it adds to conversation. Looking forward to meeting everyone! See you on Saturday.


My name’s Jessamyn West and I used to run for about ten years. We’re a “comments only” community who has built a lot of our own back end tools, so I come to community management from a very specific perspective. I work for the Internet Archive now, running Open Library and trying to get them jazzed about the idea of being more interactive with their community. Neat opportunities, difficult work.

I wanted to meet other people in the community space, especially some in Northern New England and see some of the people I’ve only known from online. I’m also interested in the idea of smaller more niche-topic conferences so I’m coming to it from that direction as well.

Looking forward to seeing everyone.

my website | my work website


Hey all,

I’m Justin Isaf. I’ve been in community for 13ish years. Was the first Community Manager at, then Director of Community at HuffingtonPost, then did some consulting for places like, the World Bank, etc. Currently I’m Head of Community for which is a private network of senior freelance developers and designers.

I’m heading to this event because I’m fascinated by where conversation and human to human interaction is heading in an increasingly computer mediated (interface, moderation, promotion and filtering) world.

Having been at HuffPost where we pre-moderated 450K comments a day, moderation and abuse are topics near and dear to my heart. If I could spend the rest of my life ending abuse online, I’d happily do it :slightly_smiling:

Looking forward to meeting everyone and seeing where this industry is going.


Hi, everyone. I’m Marie Tessier, a women’s engagement evangelist, a moderator of comments for NYTimes Opinion, a contributor to the Taking Note blog at NYTimes, and a fellow at the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, which is supporting my work on women’s engagement in news comments.

I’m heading to this event because women are outnumbered about 3:1 in online comments on news sites, and that is a huge problem for democracy, and for engagement with the news. The assumption that an “open forum” will work for the body politic has proven not to work, and needs a new paradigm.

I am hoping to gain a sense of what community managers are doing to engage women, how interactive theory and practice can inform the architecture of online community, and to meet a lot of cool people who are interested in civic media. I’m looking forward to meeting you all.

Marie Tessier


My name is Amy McDaniel, and I am a teacher, writer, small-press literary publisher, and the editor of a website,, which focuses on literature and literary community. I used to write for another literary website,, that was notorious for its comments section. Now, starting a new site that I hope creates more generative conversations, I’ve found that discussions about issues facing the literary community, most recently concerning racism and sexual abuse, tend to take place on Facebook and twitter (and IRL) instead, so our site’s comment section is almost totally inactive. I’m interested in questions of how to promote inclusive civil discourse on the site, and how to find intersections between IRL and online conversation. I’m in the planning stages of an intervention called The Conversation Tour, in which a series of in-person community conversations will look at some of these questions around discourse and how and where it is mediated. I’m hoping to have some great conversation at “Beyond Comments!”


Posted this over in the introductions thread, then realized it ought to go here too (sorry for the dupe, Mods!):

Hi all! Bob Payne here, from Seattle. Really looking forward to this discussion in Boston.

I’m currently in between jobs, but I’m a hard-core engagement geek, having worked for several years as the primary commenting czar at The Seattle Times up until a couple of weeks ago.

It was exhausting being one of the few voices in the newsroom that focused on the positives that commenting brought to the website. Sure there were trolls, but sluicing through the pebbles and sand often revealed true gold.

Which brings me to something that will be my mantra on Saturday: It takes a village. I don’t believe that any kind of community-building-toward-constructive-dialog can happen if it’s only the domain of a couple of diehards within the organization. Whatever system that results from all of this must include ways to require more widespread buy-in and participation. I know everyone is busy, but building stickiness is everyone’s job now.

Cheers until Saturday morning!


Looking forward to Saturday… I’m Terry Sauer from Minneapolis, where I’m assistant managing editor for digital at the Star Tribune. We have a vibrant commenting community at and employ a moderation staff of 10 to make sure our standards are upheld. Among the many questions I have in this area are anonymous users versus real name accounts, how to integrate reporters and editors into the conversation, how to improve the civility on certain topics and how to elevate and feature community dialogue on our platforms beyond the bottom of a news articles. Audience engagement is a top priority for us, and I’m looking forward to brainstorming best practices for the future with this elite group.


I’m Sydette Harry . I’m the Community Lead for Coral Project and I am so excited everyone is coming ! I want to prompt everyone to dream big and think practically. We hope our combination of exercises,panels and talks will prime everyone to think of new ways to actively change the culture of comments online.


Hello! My name is Pedro Burgos, I’m the Audience Intern at The Marshall Project in New York City. I recently graduated in Social Journalism at CUNY, where I researched comments. Previously I worked, among other places, at Gizmodo Brasil, where I helped to foster a strong community as editor-in-chief.

Right now I’m trying to find ways to move comments out of “boxes” and turn them into conversations (I wrote about that on Medium). At The Marshall Project, we’re experimenting with “dialogues” in partnership with Digg, and the experience has been very interesting.

I’m very excited to this event because it seems that there is going to be people from all over, with very different experiences and ideas. We all have the same goal, I guess – “to elevate and feature community dialogue on our platforms beyond the bottom of a news articles”, as @terrysauer just said --, and having a place to share our different strategies to reach that goal will certainly be awesome.


Hiya, I’m Kris Roberts, I’m working on an early stage community-based chat site called euphoria, focusing on being open and welcoming to everybody, particularly folks who tend to be more marginalized online.

I’m interested in digital citizenship, online community cultures, how to reduce abuse and harassment (both through cultural and technical means), all that sort of jazz.

I’m also a reddit moderator, both of more focused community-oriented subforums such as ones for LGBT folks, social justice, niche interests, as well as larger “default” forums that get roughly 5 million uniques per month and a large amount of comments. I’ve had fun incorporating some of my experience from reddit and the challenges faced there into my work on euphoria.

When I’m not doing internet-based things, I do various stuff for my tiny northern New England (represent!) local town government, as a voting official (busy year!), planning board member, and a few other things. I find that small town politics is similar to the internet in a lot of ways, and my experience in both places has been surprisingly useful.

Anyway, talking about myself is always a tad awkward. Look forward to meeting everyone. :slightly_smiling:


Hi Kris! So glad you’re coming. Can you tell us something about how you’ve approached the design of euphoria to encourage people traditionally marginalized online to speak up and feel safe?


Hello, all! I’m Emily McManus, the managing editor of TED, where I oversee our comment moderation team (in our startup years, I was the moderator). TED has some interesting challenges – starting with an international community with many different definitions of “civil.” As we explored that, we’ve hosted a couple of local comment moderator meet-ups at our NY office that really changed the way I think about online comments on media sites, and I am looking forward to further evolving on Saturday :slight_smile:


Welcome Emily! I remember reading something about how a team of TED mods had to be on hand to deal with the volume of responses on the day that the Monica Lewinsky video dropped. That must have been… quite a day.


Oh my goodness yes. And really, Monica’s talk response was not the first time a moderator has cried with me. It’s emotionally taxing work. I love that we’re thinking about new tools to support our mods.


Hey Andrew

Can you tell us something about how you’ve approached the design of euphoria to encourage people traditionally marginalized online to speak up and feel safe?

Hah, this is a great question, but is also a great way to send me on a bit of a rant, I apologise in advance.

The first static page we had on the site was our statement of values, which was kinda us making it super clear where we stood on things and what our values were. The document was written with significant user input via our “town hall” room. Yes, we had our statement of values up before we had our ToS. Please don’t tell the internet police on me.

And like, I think so much of it comes down to the culture of a place. You can have a gazillion technical tools and a ToS that no one reads, but also taking the time to have the conversations about how you communicate is important, as well as just being really upfront with “hey guys, screaming racial slurs and abuse ain’t gonna fly here.” Though we’re privileged to be doing this from the beginning, right out of the gate, rather than trying to figure out how to manage a community that has already devolved or already has its own (potentially negative) norms.

Community based live chat is interesting, because it has a lot of overlap with other online speech/communication, such as twitter, reddit, various comment sections, and of course is similar to Slack, which a lot of folks are familiar with because they use it for work. Community based chat can also have a lot of the pitfalls that all of these platforms do, all happening in real time. Intense, yeah?

But it also makes it far easier to get users to view you, to view the site staff, as real human beings. Assuming of course that you have site staff that interact with users, which we do. They know I have too many cats, that I love tea. A lot of them probably know that my mum is sick.

Why has it mattered? Because when I’m like, “hey yall lets talk about trying to be open and friendly to newcomers, and think about how women and minorities have often felt they are left out of the conversation online”, they’re willing to listen and engage in those discussions. Because I’m a real person and hey that all seems reasonable, lets maybe have real convos instead of devolving into twitch chat or youtube comments. I’m not an algorithm to folks, or some faceless admin somewhere off in the sky. Like, humans tend to respect human-enforced norms, and enjoy manipulating computer-enforced ones.

And so then those folks who have had those conversations with us go on and make their own communities on our site, and they carry that with them and those ideas propagate through the system, because they’re seen as leaders by their peers, or because they feel empowered to speak up in a positive way, because they know we have their back.

Like… yeah there’s all sorts of technical stuff one can do (and that we are doing), but at the core, for us, its a people thing. Stuff like lack of real-name policy is important to us. Especially for our LGBT community, having that anonymity has been really important and freeing for folks. Low barrier to entry is another thing that is important to us. IRC chat has long been used by internet trolls and outright hate groups to help them organize. What happens when we make IRC less esoteric, more modern, and more safe? What a cool organizing tool that could be for activist groups and folks in general.


Hi all,

jesikah maria ross here, the Senior Community Engagement Strategist at Capital Public Radio, the NPR affiliate serving California’s Sacramento/Capital region.

I’m thrilled to be invited to this event and am attending to listen, learn, and plough the hive mind thinking back into our community engaged journalism at CapRadio. Like so many other newsrooms, we are thinking through effective, relevant, and impactful ways to engage and create community(s) online. I’m particularly interested in how to orchestrate online spaces that are aesthetically beautiful, civil, and welcoming to diverse demographics (read: get beyond our core audience). And how to create a looping cycle that ping pongs among community engagement, user-generated/crowd powered content, newsroom reporting, comments and back.

My background is in community organizing and participatory media, mostly through IRL projects. I hope to contribute insights from my experience in on-the-ground community work and get ideas for how to translate powerful community building and community dialogue methods to online environments. I’m also hoping to form a peer network for on-going idea swapping and moral support!

jesikah maria ross
Senior Community Engagement Strategist | Capital Public Radio |
(530) 320-1819 | | @jmr_MediaSpark |


Really excited to be joining y’all here in Boston tomorrow! I recently joined the product team at Vox Media as a community manager, and worked with online health communities, both for patients in the US and providers around the world, before starting at Vox.

I’m always glad to meet other community-minded folks, and am particularly eager to hear how others are approaching community at media organizations. As others have mentioned, I’m interested in how we create community culture, both within organizations, and in communities themselves. Many of the communities I’ve worked with have been on the smaller side (15,000 members), so I’m excited to hear how others have fostered true communities and dialogue on a larger scale.


Hi everybody!

My name is JP Gomes, I’m a Brazilian journalist and design strategist currently pursuing a Master’s in Strategic Design at The New School, in New York.

Super excited about the event and curious to learn how human-centered design can help news organizations create meaningful relations with readers and build communities that enable a sustained, multi-dimensional engagement with audiences.

I feel that readers’ needs haven’t been fully articulated in relation to how they interact with news organizations in a wider media ecosystem, so I’m interested in digging deeper around this notion. Overall, I’m looking forward to a great day of discussions and learning.


Hi everyone,

So thrilled at meeting all of you tomorrow. My name is Efrat Nechushtai and I’m a PhD student in communications at Columbia Journalism School. In my previous life I was a journalist – I worked for eight years in the Israeli daily Haaretz, mostly in the business section.

I’m interested in the increasing symbiosis between the news industry and social media, and in how news outlets reconfigure themselves as community-oriented websites which feed on readers’ participation and seek it. I’ve done some research into how, before journalists developed an ethos of objectivity and professionalism, newspapers were understood as platforms that should reflect the concerns and worldviews of local communities. I think we might be heading toward a news ecology that bears significant similarities to this model.

My research plan is still nascent, so I’m really glad at the opportunity to hear from you, the people building these communities right now, and get a sense of the issues that interest you most. I’m hoping to get a peek into the insights you gained so far from your experience at the vanguard of this shift. Really looking forward to this event!

See you soon,