The Director of Engagement has tweeted out some thoughts, specifically tagging us (and only us) in them. I’m going to reproduce them below, clarify something, and invite him to this space.
A few people - including some journalists who are writing about this issue - have been asking for my response to the NPR decision. It’s important to separate NPR’s decision from the broader question, “Should every site follow their lead?”
I have a lot to say in response to this question. It’s a very different question from “Did NPR do the wrong thing?” - but I probably haven’t been clear enough in separating the two when talking about that wider issue. I apologize. I’m going to try and write more clearly here what I want to say.
I don’t have any information about NPR’s investment or approach to the comment space. NPR faces several unusual issues with building community around its shows vs its member stations, among many other areas. I have no clue about NPR’s strategy, past or present, and I don’t have anything particular to say about their decision as an organization. That isn’t my focus, or my interest. I value NPR’s work and I believe they’re trying to make the best decisions for their audience.
What I do know is that many other news organizations invest little in community spaces, including comments, because they don’t see a connection between these spaces and either their journalistic mission or their bottom line. I think that is a mistake. But if that is your policy, and your comments are a problem, then I think you should close your comments.
Comments are not the only way to engage an audience and invest in community, and I’m excited to see what NPR does next in this area. Social media has a role to play in this, but I think it is a big mistake for most news organizations to conduct community engagement only on social media platforms. I’ve written about this elsewhere - I’m happy to go over some of those arguments if you’re interested.
Comments as a medium also can be a valuable tool for onsite engagement and community - and there’s a lot more work that can be done in this area. That’s part of what we’re doing (but only a part.)
I agree with everything that Patrick Cooper tweeted above. Yes, we need more voices like Gene Demby’s in the mix as we figure out these issues. Yes, comment spaces currently don’t fit everyone’s web habits. (I’m not sure if any strategy can, but that’s another topic.) Yes, the industry needs to change its model in respect to community and comments. Yes, broadening your audience takes a lot more than just moderating the comments that come in. Yes, it’s a great time to reset and look ahead.
This is a time of experimentation, discussion, reinvention, evaluation. I’m really happy that people are talking about, and caring about audience engagement. There are many groups doing exciting work in creating technology and experiments to move their orgs, and the industry forward. I’m excited to see what NPR does next, and I’m excited to see where we can take not only comments, but community engagement tools and strategies of many different varieties.
We at The Coral Project want to encourage and support that work as much as we can. We’re creating open source tools and guides to help newsrooms of all sizes. We’re holding events, commissioning academic studies, writing guides, sharing information, pushing the conversation.
Let’s make the future of engagement better for everyone.