The Effects of Reader Comments on Journalism


As I was thinking about how news reporting has changed over the years from my perspective, I couldn’t help but think about the role of reader comments on the journalism profession.  Traditional journalists have indeed taken on a new role of “moderator” as a result of reader opinions, as well as social media where many stories are leaked (i.e. Twitter). Their job is more difficult than ever before ensuring that readers not only get up to date, unbiased news, but that they filter some of the nonsense that non-journalists are reporting.

So that said, what I really want to talk about are the pros and cons of these reader comments on the quality of today’s news. Can reader comments enhance the news that is being conveyed and point out potential flaws or inaccuracies that other readers need to know? Or is there a danger in the possibility that people start to trust biased comments as much as they do the actual journalists?

I must admit, after reading articles online I often check out the reader comments to see what people have to add about the story, somehow thinking I can get an inside scoop I guess. In a recent incident this summer where there was a shooting in Bloomington just a mile from my house, I was able to get near play-by play information from other readers that would not have been available as timely or maybe even at all if it were only up to the journalists. Additionally, some websites such as Yahoo Answers even rate their commenters, so others can ask questions and count on the rating to determine the validity of the answer.  These are examples of when reader comments can be supplementary to the news and be quite valuable as long as other readers are able to determine what they should disregard.

While reader comments can be a great way for journalists to interact with their readers, they can also stir up controversy and be the source of many rumors. Journalists must cringe at this when have put hard work into making sure they have their facts straight and report an unbiased story. People are allowed their free speech, but it can become dangerous when other readers are unable to determine what is valuable and what is junk.

Not only do journalists need to think about how these comments contribute to their work positively or negatively, but they must be prepared to respond to them. Recent research in Europe shows that publishers and editors have not succeeded in taking advantage of the contribution of audiences (Fortunati et al, 2009). It is one thing that news sites allow people to post their thoughts and ideas about their stories, but is another to take that next step to interact with the audience, and change what is reported as a result. Reader comments aren’t going to go away as long as there is free speech, so journalists must embrace it and accept their new roles that come along with it.  

~Stephanie Smith


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