Alexia Tsotsis’ highly unprofessional rants against “old media” and eventually her site’s own readers lead to a highly professional discussion amongst journalists about dealing with our critics on the web.
Lauren Boyer, a business reporter at the York Daily Record/York Sunday News, contributed to the following step-by-step directions for setting up a live chat between readers and panelists using CoveritLive. Many of these steps would also work for setting up a liveblog on your site where multiple staffers could contribute and readers can leave comments and questions.
First: Go to coveritlive.com and create a (free) account.
Customize your embed code to the size of the chat window you want (make sure it will fit into your online story or blog template). Copy the code and paste it into whatever platform you plan on using for the chat (this might be a story file on your website or an entry on your blog).
If you are embedding the chat onto Facebook, WordPress or other sites that don’t allow iFrames, check the right box under the displayed embed code to get a custom code for you.
Set Your Panelists
Under Additional Options, click Add Panelist/Producers. Under Add Panelists enter your guest panelist’s e-mail address and press the green plus sign. Adding Producers would allow another person (presumably a member of your staff) to have admin access during the chat.
Then, click the green “Send Invites” button at the bottom. Click “Save” at the bottom of the screen.
Under Additional Options, you have these options available to add to your chat or liveblog:
Notify your panelist
After you’ve set up the panelists in CoveritLive, let them know that they should have received an e-mail from an application called “Cover It Live.”
Tell them it’s important to save that email, as it has the link inside that they’ll need to click on at the time of the scheduled live chat. When they click on it, they will need to enter a login or username. It’s easier to tell them to enter a new username, since they probably don’t have a CoveritLive account (your staff, however, should have accounts).
Once they click on the chat link on the date of the chat, it will open what Lauren describes to participants as a “90s-style chat room” or an instant messenger window.
At Chat Time
Sign back into your CoverItLive account. Under My Account on the left hand side of the screen, click Upcoming. Locate your chat under CiL Events, click Launch Event Now.
Note: If you’re on an account used by multiple people, click Settings on the left-hand side of the chat console and change your display name to your name.
Only you and your panelist can see the reader comments coming in to the right side of the chat screen. To approve comments, thus making them visible to the public, click the green plus sign on the individual comment. To send a private message to the sender, click the yellow key sign. To block a user, click the red circle.
Inside the chat, you have a lot of options for what you can do to enhance the reader experience, like adding polls, uploading media, adding trusted commenters (like other staff), displaying a scoreboard and adding in options on the fly.
Ending Your Chat
Just Xing out of the screen won’t do anything. Go under Tools on the left side of the chat screen, and click option that says End Live Event.
Access Your Past Chats: Go to My Account > Completed Events. Select the event you want and click on the buttons along the top of the menu to see what options you have available.
Edit Entries: You can edit your chat after the fact here, if need be.
Save your Archived Chat: Keep this content around for others to see. You have the to either leave the chat on-screen for a user to replay or you can copy it all down as HTML and save it in a file in your CMS. This is a good idea if you want the chat to be searched by Google.
Check your chat stats: Log into the account and click Completed on the left side of the home screen. Click the button to select your event and click the “Statistics” button (looks like a pink, blue and green bar graph).
Would you give your credit card number to be allowed to have a letter to the editor printed in the newspaper? Think it’s an absurd question? Maybe not.
Beginning today, The Sun Chronicle (in Attleboro, MA) is abolishing anonymous comments the only foolproof way they know how: By attaching usernames to credit transactions.
The paper is charging commenters a one-time fee of 99 cents to be paid by credit card to that each user’s comments and community name will be tied to the name on the paying card (which also is tied to their real address and phone number).
This isn’t all that new, of course. It is a similar approach as what Honolulu news start-up Civil Beat does for their site’s discussion membership level, which charges 99 cents a month via Paypal to leave comments on the site. When Jay Rosen was here visiting us at TBD a few weeks back, he sang the praises of this system for keeping trolls out of their (notably civil) online discussions.
I, as you might gather from past posts, do not agree with the entire premise of this plan for several reasons.
First and foremost, this move can and will eliminate certain segments of the paper’s readership from ever being able to post comments. Aside from the trolls they want to eliminate, the paper can also count out those who do not have a credit card. This can include young people, those with credit problems or otherwise bad finances, those who don’t trust online financial systems – and numerous other possibilities I’m sure aren’t coming to mind right away.
And anonymity, while it can breed ugliness in online comments, has its virtues as well. The ability to speak out without identification is a necessary part of sometimes difficult discussions (like the kind we have on news sites).
Anonymous speech has always been an integral part of free speech because it enables individuals to speak up and speak out when they otherwise may find reason to hide or self-censor. Behind the veil of anonymity, individuals are more free to surface honest observations, unheard complaints, unpopular opinions…
Without anonymity, the comments may end up being quite banal. The next time the Sun Chronicle wants to crowdsource a story (if they do that sort of thing), they can rule out getting anyone to talk openly about their medical conditions, their families, if they witnessed a crime, if they’re having money problems – anything they wouldn’t want the whole community to know.
And finally, is this sort of step really necessary to control comments anyway? As I’ve said before, it is possible to create a robust online community by simply being more engaged as a staff. Better community via interaction is what we aim to do where I work.
Going back to the Civil Beat model, it should be noted the site’s discussions have staff hosts who are an active and visible presence in their threads. How much of Civil Beats, er, civility, is actually better attributed to staff interaction as opposed to their identified commenters?
Of course, that level of interaction requires staff hours most news orgs can’t or won’t spare. There are other, less time-intensive methods that are built into comment systems that other sites have managed to use to control trolls.
As the Editors Weblog noted:
…many prominent publications such as The Globe and Mail and NYT are able to maintain flourishing online communities by instituting a combination of user-rankings (inappropriate comments are quickly down-voted while insightful ones get promoted to the top of the page) and paid moderators.
It seems like a lot of overkill to ban anonymous comments in this fashion when there are other options available that can yield similar results – and yet still allow open discussion.
While it is well-documented that online page views are a flawed metric, most news websites still use it to measure “success” of stories and the performance of employees (like me). In thinking about the possibility of eliminating online comments from news stories, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out how that would affect page views.
Fact is, many website visitors, as much as they may complain about comments, love to read them. Cincinnati.Com gets a lot of traffic just to the comment sections associated with stories. In January alone, Cincinnati.Com got more than 700,000 page views to just the comments on stories (not counting blogs, forums, etc.). When we choose to take comments off of certain stories, I can see the effect it has on page views in our analytics analysis.
So what? Maybe we want to take the high road, page views be damned, right?
This comment backlash has revealed another “have your cake and eat it too” problem for the news industry. We want the page views, but don’t feel comfortable with the sort of content that tends to bring them in.
I speak from experience when I say that nothing is more likely to make a newsroom editors exude multiple personalities quite like the almighty page view. One minute they’re railing on about how we’re above using non-news linkbait online. The next, they’re in a froth over a party girl photo gallery with hundreds of thousands of page views, asking for more of the same. When your job depends on it, it can be rough to keep up.
Have I posted or promoted a story because I knew it would get comments (and thus, page views)? Absolutely. It happens on every size of news site and blog. We attempt to balance our tastes and news judgment with the harsh and unpleasant realities of online revenue every single day.
I really doubt news execs are really willing to give up the multiple millions of page views associated with comments on stories every year. Maybe, just maybe, they’d instead be willing to invest a bit of money and personnel in making those comments a bit better via good moderation.
Maybe I’m the one who’s dreaming?
It may be old news to media law nerds like me, but the ongoing case of Barnes v. Yahoo has revealed a potential minefield of legal trouble for media websites of all sizes in something as simple as a broken promise.
As most every media person knows, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 grants immunity from liability to service providers (including media sites) for user-generated content, even if it is defamatory. The Barnes case re-asserted that protection, but it also revealed a possible loophole in that immunity that can occur if you promise to remove content – and don’t follow through.
It started with a bad breakup. Cecilia Barnes’ ex-boyfriend put personal info and lewd photos of her in a Yahoo profile soliciting for sex. She tried to contact Yahoo to get the defamatory profile removed and eventually got through to a person who said they’d take care of it. They didn’t.
And it was there that the loophole appeared. Aside from the issue of defamation in relation to the content of the profile, Barnes’ suit has a claim for breach of contract from Yahoo for not taking down the profile as promised.
[promissory estoppel] allows courts to find an enforceable contract absent consideration where a claimant can prove the following: 1) a promise was made, 2) the promisor, as a reasonable person, should have foreseen that the promise would induce the conduct of the type which occurred, and 3) the claimant actually relied on the promise resulting in a substantial change in his or her position.
So, that broken promise, essentially, is the contract that was broken – and thus, a whole other Pandora’s box is opened.
The lesson for you? If you have comments or other kinds of user-submitted content on your website or blog and someone calls to complain about something in that content, whatever you do – don’t make any promises to remove it if you don’t want legal responsibility for it.
I know from experience on these kind of calls that you want to say you’ll take care of it right away, but don’t. Say you’ll look into it. Tell everyone in your newsroom to say the same.
And finally, for the love of God, don’t put up profiles of your ex-girlfriends on Yahoo – prank calls are far less problematic.
From the time newspapers took a cue from blogs and added comments to online stories, we’ve been embroiled in debate.
I’ve been in the thick of it at Cincinnati.Com, where a big part of my job is in monitoring our site’s comments, maintaining our moderation policy and fielding lots of angry correspondence from staff and readers regarding those comments.
Everyone wants to debate whether the comments have any value (they do to those who comment), who’s responsible for their content (the law says the commenter is responsible, not the institution, but that doesn’t stop people from insisting otherwise). They question if removing comments is stifling discussion on a topic – and if that’s such a bad thing.
Online comments are a gigantic albatross for our sites, but I believe we need them. While the amount of racist remarks, predictable political attacks and name calling on our stories could fill a book – they are worth it for the ones that really reflect a community’s mindset.
Newspapers are supposed to be a community hub – and we can’t fill that role without giving our readers a way to respond to the news the same way they do other places online.
At Cincinnati.Com, we do after-the-fact moderation (where users can report comments) on our 10,000+ comments each week in accordance with discussion guidelines we set up in May 2008. It’s an imperfect system – stuff stays on the site that shouldn’t because it isn’t found or reported – but people get to have their say.
When the comments really start flying off-base, sometimes we have to make the choice to remove them altogether. WaPo Ombudsman Andrew Alexander recently wrote about that paper’s recent struggle with such a choice. They use the same system as the Enquirer and it failed on them when a subject of their story was vilified by his family in the comments….