Comments are Popular
Reader comments are one of the most popular ways to discuss news. Articles on a major site like CNN or CBC regularly attract hundreds or thousands of comments within just a few hours. A Pew study found that 3% of Internet users responded to news on Twitter, 17% on social media like Facebook—and 25% with comments. Two-thirds of those who engaged with news online participated in comments. CBC, which receives over 20,000 comments per day, reports that three-quarters of their online audience read comments, and a third have written them. If anything, comments have become more popular since these statistics were gathered.
Many news organizations see reader discussion as part of their job. Marissa Nelson, then Senior Director for CBC digital, said “we want Canadians to debate and discuss the most important news of the day.
They’re more likely to be civically engaged, and I think that that’s part of the CBC’s mission.
We don’t want them to just passively take the news in. . . if they’re talking about it . . . they’re more likely to be civically engaged, and I think that that’s part of the CBC’s mission.” The New York Times, which attracts 9,000 comments per day, has run profiles of top commenters on their site who have “helped to transform The New York Times for the digital era. Their voices have enhanced our journalism, offering new information, insight and analysis on many of the day’s most pressing issues.” Some news organizations routinely quote reader comments in stories about public reaction, or even read them on-air on TV or radio.
Their voices have enhanced our journalism, offering new information, insight and analysis.
Comments are everywhere, but their impact is hard to measure. Unlike Facebook or Twitter, there is no one dominant site for comment discussions: instead they are scattered across tens of thousands of news and blog sites. Most comments lack solid demographic data, so it is difficult to know who is commenting, let alone who is reading. Business success stories like Facebook and Twitter attract researchers: they are single sources with extensive demographic data (because they sell it to advertisers). Nevertheless, all the evidence suggests that comments are influential. And there are things that comments do and tell us better than other forms of online discussion.