Monday, October 31, 2011

GCI switching all sites to Facebook commenting

In a major shift in its social media strategy, Gannett is adopting Facebook-driven commenting on all websites for U.S. community newspapers, TV stations, and USA Today, according to a memo distributed to employees on Friday.

The deployment follows tests in four pilot markets that "resulted in increased civility in comment threads, increased participation from local public figures and a increase in Facebook referrals," the memo says.

Two of the test sites were at The News-Press in Fort Myers, Fla., and The Des Moines Register. I do not know the locations of the other two markets.

Facebook accounts generally reveal a user's real identity, which then appears with comments they post. During the tests, editors assumed readers would be less likely to make personal attacks or engage in other unacceptable behavior if their identities were known. Readers who don't establish Facebook accounts would no longer be able to post comments.

In spot checks I've done since the U.S. Community Publishing (USCP) tests began in early August, I've noted a significant decrease in the number of comments -- a point not discussed in the memo. The memo also doesn't disclose the impact on pageviews or any related loss in advertising revenue.

Full memo text
Gannett Digital Announces Facebook Comments Deployment 
After a successful pilot, Gannett Digital is pleased to announce the general deployment of Facebook Comments on all USCP and Broadcast sites as well as The Facebook Comments platform allows any visitor to your website currently logged into Facebook to leave a comment on an article using their Facebook identity. In the four pilot markets this resulted in increased civility in comment threads, increased participation from local public figures and an increase in Facebook referrals.

Deployment Timeline
The rollout of Facebook Comments will start with USA TODAY Travel and all Broadcast sites the week of November 7th.  The USCP phased rollout will begin the week of November 14th. The remainder of will launch the week of November 28th. The full deployment schedule will be available on the project SharePoint site Tuesday, Nov. 1.

Audience Impact
We expect the change in commenting systems will require audience education in the form of explanatory articles at the time of the change, an FAQ, clear language on the comment page to make it clear that users need to be logged in at to participate, and links to the FAQ and the article on the change. Facebook comment threads will replace existing Pluck comments on all non-archived stories. Pluck persona pages will no longer include comments left by a user. In addition, Facebook Comments will be added to the mobile sites for each USCP and Broadcast market, to present users with a consistent experience across platforms. At this time we are not replacing other site features and functionality powered by Pluck, but will be exploring alternatives in the coming months.

Detailed implementation instructions, moderation training materials and schedule, as well as a recommended audience education plan will all be available on the project SharePoint site on Tuesday, Nov. 1.


  1. This is great.

    The number of hateful comments will be greatly reduced when people have to reveal themselves on Facebook.

    Whether it affects traffic negatively remains to be seen. Even if it does, a good tradeoff, I think.

  2. Oh, it will definitely affect traffic negatively. People are cruel online and the public won't want to subject itself to the crazies, cranks and otherwise insanity that is the online community.

  3. We ought to go all the way and throw up the paywalls at the same time. As long as we're going to drive off customers, don't do it halfway.

    Civil discourse is a wonderful goal. But as our letter writers can attest, the people who reveal their identities are harassed by those who don't. With this move, we push the whackos off the conversation boards and onto phones, mail and unwanted visits in real life.

    I am a top ten contributor (on my own time) on my local paper site, and I have a substantial list of people who follow me, either to agree or disagree on a daily basis. Not any more.

    I'll take my anonymity and my screen name with me, and spend my time somewhere else. If the paper chooses to put my family at risk by requiring I identify myself, I choose not to participate.

  4. I'm not sure it will affect traffic -- and by that I mean actual traffic on the site.

    Will comments drop? Yes, of course, but many of the "thousands" of comments on any story are often from a few dozen nutjobs endlessly answering or denouncing each other.

    A saner and more thoughtful comment environment, even if far fewer, can only lift the entire site's demographic and value as a destination -- rather than a frea show.

    A good move indeed.

  5. QUOTE: I'll take my anonymity and my screen name with me, and spend my time somewhere else.UNQUOTE

    I rest my case. Good riddance to someone who has "followers" but can't bring himself to reveal himself. Who needs someone like that?

  6. This is bullshit. Anonymity aside, why should I have to join Facebook to comment?

  7. Not sure we should make our readers reveal their identities when we either make up sources wholesale or identify them as 'senior administration officials'.

  8. Right, but we don't have unnamed sources urging Obama to go back to Africa and other hatred.

  9. We're not click whores anymore? Wonder what advertisers will think about the huge drop in web hits.

  10. I think advertisers will appreciate a smarter environment.

    And experiments elsewhere in Gannett show a big drop in comments, but NOT a drop in traffic. At all.

  11. Unless you have a 100 percent sell through rate on a site -- and no papers are even close -- a drop in impressions from the switch won't impact ad revenue at all.

  12. because making a "false" Facebook profile is REALLY hard.......

  13. "I am a top ten contributor (on my own time) on my local paper site ... "

    Assuming you work at that place, that's a major no-no for an employee to have an anonymous account on their own web site.

  14. Another step toward the demise of the Big G. Giving away all demographic info to Facebook so they can sell targeted ads and make money.

  15. This makes so much sense it is amazing that anyone actually comes out against it. This will lead to a more civil discourse. And to the guy who doesn't want to be forced to join Facebook, well that is just downright funny.

  16. 2:25, just some "side note" info. I am not 1:01, by the way. My site afforded me contradictory messages regarding participation online.

    At first I was invited to post as a private citizen, much the same as my letters-to-the-editor appeared which won several writing awards... me not being a writer and not employed in any way in Editorial (oops, I mean "the Information Center"). My employ was strictly skilled production and customer service.

    Having grown up around journalism and reading as many different papers as possible, though, my posts literate, positive when warranted and critical as well when I would notice the difference in standards between a well-written story and slapdashery, yet I was always civil.

    A new publisher was installed and he had a totally different take on the idea, unbeknownst to me since he never bothered articulating any change in worldview. He saw my contributions and critiques as practically traitorous. He was livid. I was surprised.

    Furthermore, he viewed my screen name -- as the private citizen I was always told I was, decade after decade, no professional relation at all to Editorial -- as an attempt at deceiving my own employer even though my picture ran plain as day, right next to each post, while most posters used anonymous icons.

    For my ethics and history, I found that accusation of his degrading and insulting -- but he wasn't one to look into much background, especially the unwashed "production people." It was too much of a bother to do anything else but demand my resignation, a longtime letter-writer type.

    He backed off that, though (probably sensing some unseemily publicity, what with the poster of the First Amendment greeting one and all in the hallway), and settled instead for banning me from posting to the site -- further insulting, since I had emphatically stated that in view of his policy, which I had only then learned of while he bellered at me, I would of course not post anything further! I was lucky to just get the sentence in edgewise.

    Again, my posts were not baseless. They cited basic standards. They were not abusive in the least, let alone personal. Not my character. Plus, I also happily commented when a story just blew the rest of my city's media out of the water. But I guess those didn't matter.

    To this guy, unlike his predecessor and his predecessor before that, I was not offering usually well-reasoned opinion and fodder for further discussion as the private citizen I had always been -- further activity on the site -- but ungratefully biting the hand that fed me. Nice touch, that.

    To be fair, the guy was normally a decent sort. Aloof, but well-heeled and intelligent. One could tell he didn't much enjoy dealing with the increased Orders From On High which were then just beginning to make their first steps into destroying the autonomy and character of local operations. How embarrassing to be a publisher who often confessed that he knew just about as much as we did, regarding our or even his future.

    But his take on online participation by non-Editorial workers, indeed loyal daily readers of the product unlike too many other people working there, was 180° from the policies of those before him -- and I only learned of that change in course in the most undignified way.

  17. 2:26 gets it. What do you think Facebook really is? You're wrong if you think it's a social site. Try database to be used and sold. And 2:35, there's not a damn thing funny about not wanting to join. You don't get it.

  18. Actually, what's "downright funny" are anonymous comments condemning anonymous comments.

  19. 1:01 here - I was also in production. I don't understand the assertation that as an employee I shouldn't be able to participate like any other member of my community, anonymously or otherwise, as long as I followed the Terms Of Service.

    As I receive no benefit, no pay due to my contributions there should be no difference in my views than those from anyone else.

    And the reasons for being anonymous there are the same as the reasons to be anonymous here. In an intelligent conversation, the discussion of ideas should be of more merit than who is presenting them: whether a pressman in Phoenix, a VP in Tysons, or Frank Gannett's ghost; getting past assumptions tied to a person's name or rank allows the ideas to be debated honestly.

  20. I'm glad for any policy that reduces anonymous commenting, much of which makes your skin crawl when you read what so many of your fellow citizens are saying. This policy doesn't stop anyone from saying whatever they want, no matter how vile -- it just keeps it off of the paper's own site. If what you feel compelled to say is so likely to cause backlash if others knew your identity, then get your own blog and spew away in glorious anonymity.

  21. That's right, newspapers must be protected at all costs from any contamination by the great unwashed.

  22. Would Jim ever require us to sign up with MarketingBook to post here?

    Not if he wants the comments to continue.
    And the traffic.
    He can always delete posts he doesn't like; it's his blog.

    What a stupid move by Gannett.
    But not surprising, of course.

    The outsourced online censors must have thrown in the towel.

  23. "much of which makes your skin crawl when you read what so many of your fellow citizens are saying"

    Journalists are such delicate creatures. Free speech gives them the vapors!

  24. Whistleblowers who post here need to be anonymous.

  25. FaceBook is a purveyor of your PRIVATE data and
    sells it to anyone who will pay for it.

    There have been numerous news articles lately of
    their pervasive invasion of your computer data and
    placing 'cookies' without your permission.

    It is just another way for destroying our privacy by
    the news media and others.


  26. A leading media and marketing company should be able to create its own solution to this issue just as many of its smaller peers did years ago.

    Yet instead, it turns to Facebook, a company with whom it has no apparent financial ties, one that already has greater shares of Gannett customers’ time as well as the ability to reach that audience with ads and in ways that given this move, Gannett will likely never achieve.

    For a company this size, it’s truly a pathetic and damaging move, as it needs to lead in this space, not follow.

  27. 9:49, give it a rest. Not much whistleblowing here.

    You, too, 3:28. Same tired argument.

  28. Finally, Gannett uses some common sense and does something right. Some of the online comments were just ridiculous. I hope this move cuts down on those offensive comments and results in more constructive online conversations.

    I still feel for my old brothers and sisters with Gannett. I recently left the company after nearly seven years and can't fully describe how much less stressful my life is after leaving that poorly "managed" newsroom.

  29. I generally refrain from commenting on sites that are hooked up to Facebook. Not because I wish to recite hateful things that I don't want to put my name to, I might add, but simply because I have no interest in hooking up every opinion or part of my life under the Facebook umbrella. Other people may have other reasons not to comment in this fashion. Either way, it will see a reduction in the number of comments, of that I'm pretty sure. Whether the supposed higher level of discourse makes that worthwhile or not is a different matter - at the smaller sites it could mean so few comments that the whole comment feature is no longer worthwhile. At the larger ones? I'd still say a drop in numbers - but perhaps a selection of more useful comments when it comes to advancing debate.

  30. two points:
    1. This was done to ave the company millions of dollars that normally wuld have gone to Pluck, the commenting and ratings tool that Gannett Digital so aptly spent millions on each year.

    2. Gannett obviously does not care about the privacy of their readers/subscribers/visitors as Facebook is a treasure trove of personally identifiable information about each user.

    it will take a simple lawsuit for Gannett to realize that this was a major mistake. Letting Facebook (another media outlet that makes money selling advertising space) control Gannett newspaper commenting is probably the stupidist idea ever conceived of.

  31. I don't think this will result in any major drops I website traffic. The most commented and most read stories often are far different from each other. The stories with the most comments are usually political, and it's always the same group of people who come to blast away. Even our own online people say that the commenters are "nuts." While I'm not a fan of the idea of Facebook comments on the sites, I can't say it's really a bad thing in this case. It will restore at least a measure of credibility to comments. But the other thing this may do is put a stop to stories that are posted simply because they're comment bait. Our site is really bad about that.

  32. This move is illustrative of why Gannett has failed in the digital space.

  33. Having watched one market test this back and forth with school stories for months now two things are clear: Facebook comments significantly reduces comments and those that do rarely publicly question decisions schools make regarding ballot issues, staffing, etc. Teachers union leaders, their members and administrators win and the readers newspapers serve ultimately lose, as this was one of the venues they could actually speak openly without fear of retribution.

    For a company that claims to be a digital leader turning to Facebook Comments puts it on the level of any novice with a computer and yet Gannett pays its leaders handsomely for shortsighted decisions like these.

  34. A good discussion here, but I believe that the bad -- hate-filled spewing, mocking of victim families, racial hatred that would never be said or written in any other public forum -- far outweighs the other considerations.

    Wish Facebook was not the only way to comment, but quite literally SOMETHING had to be done. Industry wide, not just Gannett.

  35. Well, 9:58, I can tell you the anonymous comments did not bolster the credibility of the mighty nameless people who chose to take on those groups here. Their comments were largely personal attacks mixed with inaccurate details about pay and benefits. (Come to think of it, that's probably why you, a Gannett Blog poster, support those comments.)

    After a few days of skirmishes, these mighty nameless wonders dropped off the board, or perhaps they just went back to spewing hatred in unrelated threads.

  36. I might be missing something, but I work in a USCP newsroom and I haven't heard anything about this. As far as I know, we didn't receive a memo -- from corporate, our publisher or otherwise -- about switching to Facebook-driven comments. Not a peep about this from our higher-ups in any of our recent newsroom memos, either. Jim, do you know if any USCP properties are being excluded in this initiative? Any info would be helpful, as it seems we're not getting any from our managers (as usual).

  37. So, I wonder how much kickback GCI will get from Facebook for using their Comments tool across all Gannett sites?

  38. 2:22 PM – If you think implementing Facebook Comments will eliminate the minority you’re complaining about you’re kidding yourself as of the few who did post via it, a few were clearly aliases.

    My support for anonymity isn’t to encourage attacks, it’s to encourage open discussions without people worrying about being personally attacked for their opinion. This blog is great proof as despite how some behave, great info has been unearthed and discussed. And for someone who complains about attacks you certainly have no problem with giving yourself a pass for it, nor remaining nameless to do it.

    Regardless, thoughtful, intelligent discussions have occurred on Gannett sites even with the noise people like you add. Using Facebook to police those who don’t will run far more people off who behave appropriately than those like you who don’t.
    9:58 AM

  39. I have never been a troll on my Gannett paper's site. Never used foul language or called anybody a name. However, I have voiced opposing opinions at times. I do not like the fact that somebody who disagrees and I don't know can use whatever comment I make to Google my name, find my phone, my address, who my kids are, where I work, where I live.

    I do not see this as a targeted marketing tool as much as I see it as an attempt to shut me up for fear of retaliation or create another means of knowing more about me than I am comfortable with. Add to it

    We are not children in the school yard who need to have our delicate sensibilities protected from mere words on a computer screen. Most of us post civilly and we should not have to expose ourselves entirely to those who may have very different views and would like to make their point up close and personal.

    I imagine that somewhere down the road we will be reading stories with bad endings where the most enabling factor was being so exposed on a website where we have no control over our own security.

    So we will keep or mouths shut. My papers usually thought provoking and sometimes spirited discussions are totally devoid of conversation now.

    It is not a newspapers responsibility to judge my civility or even lack of it. If that is the case, they should not cover OWS. My experience on the boards have been that posters who have a progressive view, tend to be the foulest mouthed and the quickest to resort to name calling and degradation. I blow them off, it is free speech after all.

    Feels kind of big brother to me....

  40. So your going to finally end up with just one sided comments as noted above, and mainly from the left side.

    But You haven't looked too far down the road. This ISN'T just Gannett doing this, but almost anything related to Gov. and media.

    And finally it boils down to only one thing, Everything about YOU aggregated to only one central storehouse of info about You. Readily available to any law-enforcement agency now under the patriot act.

    The time,, not too far off now. where it will just be a few web users who have refused to bow to these rules. we may read, but no comments, we clean our cashe so no cookie tracking. But the worse thing for these community standards is what you are then left with, only one side to any argument and that side will always be on the left, because they are the most that will attack and stalk. Web traffic will drop and the online add revenue will not make up for it and print subscriptions will also drop, causing more lay-offs. The news stories are now slanted to the soccer-mom feminization of America. Thanks, but print caused it's own demise.

    Even the Federalist Papers were anonymous.

  41. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  42. I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend until death your right to say it using Facebook.

  43. I used to comment regularly on USAT. No more. Yeah, I did get a bit hot sometimes when discussing a very important belief (to me anyway). It happens.

    But look at it now! Comments across the board on USAToday have gone down AT LEAST 90%. Good news, you say? Gets rid of the trolls you say? Reading the comments is like reading anything else on Facebook - superficial, bland, lifeless. People generally do not post their deeply held beliefs on Facebook, especially if they're even the slightest bit controversial.

    Clearly the USAToday was getting a bit tired of right wing and moderate commenters calling them out on their liberal bias, judging not just from the volume of comments, but from their rankings as well.

    Regardless of the intentions of the switch, the EFFECT of the switch to FB commenting has been to silence EVERYONE, not just the right. The lefties are also gone. Clearly it's not that the USAToday was tired of right wing comments, they were tired of ANY criticism and controversy whatsoever.

    The comments section did a great service and gave the generally unreadable news stories a level of depth that the USAToday writers can only dream of mustering. Now the USAToday will be exposed for the crap that it is. I can't imagine it's going to stand up on its own for long

    former USAToday troll

  44. Lol, the end of Gannet is soon upon us for stupid decisions like this. Awesome.

  45. I think this is wrong, especially since I don't want my employer to know what I post, as they are in the news frequently. This will silence a lot of voices. Many are already going elsewhere to comment.

  46. Barry Summers12/01/2011 4:56 PM

    Would anyone who received the "audience education plan" be willing to share it with the rest of us? I have surfed through a few of the individual Gannett papers' explanations of the Facebook changeover, and they sound eerily similar. Some come right out and say that all Gannett papers will be changing over, but some, like our Asheville Citizen-Times, make it sound like the decision was the publisher's own, and that it applied only to their newspaper's website.

    Again, I would appreciate seeing how Gannett advised individual local newspapers to roll this out to their readers. Thanks.

  47. REMEMBER - BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING! I refuse to submit myself to all the B.S. "games", hackers, and spambots that come from Facebook. It reminds me of the old "free" internet offers - Ohy yeah it was free with pop-ups and cookies loading to your computer; FUN!

  48. This is a company that does not understand the customer is necessary for their survival. Already, the face book devil has reduced their readership to the bones. We supported them while they gobbled up all the local papers.
    Now, they are facing "unpaid leaves", no work because they disrespected the reader/commentors

  49. Why is Gannett rewarding a company that has repeatedly tricked users with complicated privacy controls and numerous unannounced changes? That forces people to risk their very lives if they make a comment some crazy doesn't like? This is a fascist move, and to be frank, it hasn't prevented people from attacking and being ugly.

  50. "A good discussion here, but I believe that the bad -- hate-filled spewing, mocking of victim families, racial hatred that would never be said or written in any other public forum -- far outweighs the other considerations." ---That's the myth and it's wrong. I look at media articles all day every day. And the comments are still horrible, full of hate. All this has done is reduced the number of comments and people willing to make them. It has not removed the hate and I'm amazed anyone would say that. Just look around. Read some of these comments. Go to the San Bernardino Sun or the LA Times and see for yourself.

  51. So much for freedom of speech where folks can voice their view without fear of retribution regardless of their opinions/views on various issues.
    It seems Gannet wants to reward the politicially correct at the expense of eliminating opposing or even diverse views.


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."

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