Sunday, September 11, 2011

Under new comments policy, GCI readers clam up

One month after two Gannett newspapers switched to Facebook-powered commenting policies, the number of reader posts on the most-discussed stories remains dramatically lower compared to other papers.

In early August, The Des Moines Register and The News-Press in Fort Myers, Fla., said readers would need to comment via Facebook accounts, which typically reveal their true identities. Editors hoped readers would be more civil if they couldn't post anonymously.

The tradeoff would be lower reader participation, a fact illustrated by the falloff in comments over the past month. That shows many readers are either unwilling to post under their real names, or won't make the effort to open the required Facebook accounts.

The News-Press said it would test the new policy for 60 days and evaluate the results. The Register didn't give a time limit.

A key question remains unanswered: What's been the impact on pageviews and advertising revenue, since comments are one of the traffic drivers?

Numbers vs. other papers
Following are the total comments on the 10 stories drawing the most comments at the Register and the News-Press. They're especially small when compared to lower-circulation papers that allow anonymous comments, in Pensacola, Fla., and Springfield, Mo.:

Note: Circulation is at March 31, from the ABC's lookup database.


  1. I'm one of those strongly on the side of supporting the move to Facebook comments. I remember when comments were enabled at the GCI site I worked for. I had finished a story about a high school senior killed in a car accident. Minutes later we were scrambling to delete vile posts from people joking about this girl's supposed sexual prowess. In the years to come I watched as our comment fields and message boards, as well as that of larger papers, became ghettos of maliciousness and malevolence. People will argue that anonymous posts are necessary for open dialogue on tough issues to take place, but I call bullshit on that. There are still plenty of ways for people to get their voices heard on issues or to act as whistleblowers anonymously. Unmoderated comments and message boards have become the lowest form of communication in most markets and I applaud the move by newspapers to apply the same standards we have for print to our digital facets.

  2. Facebook comments also are being tried out by the Arizona Republic's website,, as part of its AZ Fact Check feature here:

    And don't miss the first comment - pretty funny.

  3. Quality trumps quantity, Jim. Your own board is an indication of that. Half the people here have nothing worthwhile to say, yet they are here almost every day.

  4. If Gannett has to rely on Facebook to clean up what much smaller media companies have been able to achieve on their own, then that doesn’t speak very well about a core competency it needs to truly compete in this new media environment let alone with more disruptive changes that lie ahead.

  5. So what happened to Pluck?

  6. 4:16. Quality may trump quantity -- but only when quality comments are even a possibility. Can you direct me to another blog about Gannett where there are the quality comments you speak of?

    On this site, I can't ask my readers to comment under their real names for one simple reason:

    They would be fired.

    That would not happen, of course, if Gannett were a company truly devoted to First Amendment free expression.

  7. Dumb response, Jim. The First Amendment was never intended to provide that type of protection. It only says the government won't make laws that restrict free speech. Read the Constitution.

    The first part of your comment is a non-sequitur. It has nothing to do with the original point: Half the people here have nothing worthwhile to contribute. And I'm being kind by limiting the estimate to half.

  8. More precisely, it's in the Bill of Rights, where the full text reads:

    "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

  9. The Bill of Rights is part of the Constitution, Jim.

    So, where in there is your claim supported? You seem to be saying here, in contradiction of what you have said about your own blog in the past, that employees not only should be allowed to post criticism of their employers, but that they also have the constitutional right to do so.

    Also, if anyone posted some of the stuff they have here, then that person should be fired. Not only that, but I'd try to fire the person who hired them.

  10. I believe you'd be firing some fairly high-level people.

    If Gannett were a company truly devoted to First Amendment free expression, its employees wouldn't fear retribution for posting comments here under their real names.

  11. That's nonsense. You should quit posting that again and again; it destroys the credibility you have left.

    The original point is that half the stuff here is crap. Your continued avoidance of that point shows you either can't or won't argue against it.

  12. I recognize the hypocrisy of posting anonymously while supporting commenting through Facebook ID.

    But I agree with Jim, I think a lot of the comments made here, especially the ones that put forth rational discussion of the company's practices, would get the commenter fired.

    That said, I completely support using Facebook sign in on the newspaper sites. Unmoderated, anonymous comments at my paper have turned the comments sections into racist, hate filled, right wing screeds. Anytime a rational thought is posted the person is "virtually" shouted down and belittled.

    This site has a different mission. It's a place for people to get news about Gannett, a company that doesn't publish honest news about itself, the anonymous comments allow us to keep abreast of what the people in the Crystal Palace have planned for us (and based on the latest circulation figures it ain't good). We have to wade a through a lot of misinformation that's put here, I suspect by people in the Crystal Palace who want to sow misinformation, it's the only source we have. On thing though, Facebook ID's would end the infantile jokes about people's names and personal attacks that some people use this site for.

  13. For a little more context, readers posted about 2,300 comments on Gannett Blog over the past 30 days -- and that was a period when traffic was low because it's that slow-news time of year.

  14. And a point that's not being mentioned here is this: With the number of anonymous comments on here from various people (myself included), is there enough revenue raised to keep this site afloat? Are those anonymous posters contributing financially to this site? I have. But my strong suspicion is that the majority of anonymous commenters have not. Now, if this site changed to requiring all posts to come from identified sources, would those financial numbers decline, improve or stay the same?

    Ethics aside, THAT is the bottom line for Gannett. That and nothing more. I'd like to know the answer.


Jim says: "Proceed with caution; this is a free-for-all comment zone. I try to correct or clarify incorrect information. But I can't catch everything. Please keep your posts focused on Gannett and media-related subjects. Note that I occasionally review comments in advance, to reject inappropriate ones. And I ignore hostile posters, and recommend you do, too."

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.