DEAR READER: Results are in for the Missourian's comment moderation survey

Friday, December 2, 2011 | 4:21 p.m. CST; updated 4:42 p.m. CST, Friday, December 2, 2011

Of the 102 people who took the time to answer Saturday's comment moderation questionnaire, many of whom never comment, 36 said they think the Missourian's comments section is overwhelmingly negative, often aggressive and discourages them from participating.

This is just the kind of feedback we were looking for.


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The goal of the questionnaire was to find out what Missourian readers think is acceptable and unacceptable as far as commenting practice and moderation. After going through pages and pages of responses, I compiled some general themes from the feedback and picked out a few figures that stood out.

  • Thirty-six people generally agreed with one survey responder's view: "There seem to be a few people who comment all the time. Many are aggressive and contemptuous of any opposing views." Another response stated, "The comment section often makes me feel ashamed of my community."
  • The Missourian's comments policy requires people to use first and last names, and some people thanked us for that. Others, however, said they would feel more comfortable stating opinions if they did not have to sign their full names. Some listed a fear of problems at work as a reason they were opposed to using full names.
  • The policy prohibits personal attacks, and we asked people which of the examples we provided qualified as a personal attack. Eighty-eight people think calling someone a moron is considered a personal attack, and 74 think stereotyping by ethnicity is, too. However, only seven people think saying an opinion is "uninformed and biased" qualifies.
  • Ninety-eight people answered as to how frequently they commented on the Missourian's website — and 43 of them said they never do. Since we were hoping to hear from people who don't usually join the conversation, we appreciate that they shared their views.

These are just a few examples of the kinds of information we were hoping to receive. The better we can get to know our audience, the better we can make sure we are moderating effectively.

Now that we've collected this data, what will we do?

The Missourian has already instituted a new strategy for moderating comments, whereby a commenter's first comment must be approved before he or she can continue to comment. So far, this has helped cut down on both spam comments and people trying to use fake or incomplete names.

Joy Mayer, our director of community outreach, and I have talked about some ways our team could respond to the feedback we've received. Our goal is to increase the civility of the conversation within the community and encourage more people to get involved.

Some ways the Missourian could help:

  • Some people said that too off-topic comment threads kept them from participating. Our staff could help direct errant threads back toward the original topic by posing questions or offering other sources of information that are relevant.
  • Mike Martin, a Missourian reader, said in a comment on Saturday's Dear Reader column that a past Columbia Daily Tribune blogemphasizing a closer reader-reporter relationship resulted in readers feeling "more of an obligation to show intelligence, panache, and civility given the relationship with the reporter." If you would welcome that kind of exchange, we could do more to foster it. It's easier on a blog, written by one person, to feel a personal connection with a reporter. But even on news stories, our reporters could take charge of fact-checking comments and interject new information or answers to questions. Other news sites have found that the continued presence of the journalists in comment threads can help with civility.
  • We could also try to drop in occasionally and remind commenters of our policy and make sure the conversation is remaining civil. One survey responder said too often, people resort to name-calling when they have no facts to support their arguments. "Rational discourse does not mean belittling the person with whom you disagree; rather, it means offering facts to support your own viewpoint," the response stated.
  • To reward commenters who are making positive contributions to the conversation, we could feature a comment of the week.

Which, if any, of these options would you support? Are there more ways you'd like to see us interact in the forum?

If you are interested in the full results of the survey, you can find the image in the related media box. Look for the red numbers to see how many people selected each answer. Thank you to everyone who participated.

Shaina Cavazos is a member of the community outreach team and an Assistant City Editor at the Missourian. Feel free to take a look at her past work or follow her on Twitter @ShainaRC.

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Mark Foecking December 3, 2011 | 5:34 a.m.

One problem with allowing comments at all is they often wind up discussing politics and religion, two subjects oft recommended not be discussed in polite company. Some level of heated discussion should be expected when these subjects come up.

I'm guilty of contributing to political and religious comments, even though I don't consider myself particularly political or religious. I don't know if not allowing politics to be discussed on these boards is desirable, but I'd understand if that might improve the comment climate.


(Report Comment)
Tim Trayle December 3, 2011 | 6:31 a.m.

I believe the first and third strategies offered for consideration above (in the bullet-point list) are already in place. I do not see success.
Would it be possible to limit the number of times a person could post in a given week? Some of the most troublesome commentators are also some of the ones who post most often.
My own participation has dropped off significantly; I saw how engaging with some of the more offensive people on this site was affecting my own level of discourse. I don't need that toxicity.
It's a shame, because I really do value sincere disagreement and discussion when its pursued in a rational way.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith December 3, 2011 | 6:49 a.m.

How many of those who said "this" or "that" keeps them from participating would actually participate if "this" or "that" could or would be changed?

As for the "same people" always posting, that happens with any similar venue. Their comments could obviously be "diluted" if more people posted comments. (There go those damned chemical types again, talking about dilution.)

(Report Comment)
Vega Bond December 4, 2011 | 4:43 p.m.

If you aren't part of the solution you are part of the precipitate.

(Report Comment)
Derrick Fogle June 11, 2012 | 8:46 p.m.

Editors: I would like to offer a new suggestion for the comments section: Some arbitrary limit on the number of times any one person can post on any one article. Five, seven, even as much as ten posts per person per article.

I think such a limit would help keep people focused on the relevant discussion, and stop ridiculous run-on threads where the people are mostly just chewing on each other.

Thanks for your consideration.

(Report Comment)
Ida Fogle June 11, 2012 | 10:02 p.m.

I would love to see some fact checking on comments.

(Report Comment)
Louis Schneebaum June 11, 2012 | 10:38 p.m.

It's the internet MAN. Let us have proper user-names and comment as we please, without any censorship. Let us use Disqus accounts, or some similar service. Never forget that there are plenty of other news sources on the web: Common Dreams, Daily Kos, HuffingtonPost, The Nation, NPR, and countless others. Be flattered that anyone even bothers to comment here. I haven't even looked at the Trib since it became a pay (LOL) service. For a 'liberal' town, the online papers here sure love to analyze and regulate some relatively tame online speak. If the speech is non-threatening, why even concern yourselves with it?

(Report Comment)
frank christian June 12, 2012 | 6:51 a.m.

"I would love to see some fact checking on comments."

This must be a liberal. Others, when they feel fact checking is needed, just do it.

(Report Comment)
Rich C. June 12, 2012 | 8:02 a.m.

"This must be a liberal. Others, when they feel fact checking is needed, just do it."

Unless the facts go against what one thinks. Then it's liberal media bias.

(Report Comment)
mike mentor June 12, 2012 | 8:33 a.m.

I have to chuckle. We have an article devoted to improving the civility of comments and the person whom everyone is talking about when complaining of "aggressive and ubiquitous comments" is the first to level an attack. Now if only that darn powerball number picking machine was as predictible as some of us...

A sincere thanks to those of you working to improve this forum!

(Report Comment)
Rich C. June 12, 2012 | 8:54 a.m.

I was surprised it took as long as it did.

(Report Comment)
frank christian June 12, 2012 | 9:12 a.m.

mike - You left me wondering. Whom were You attacking, me or Cookley?

(Report Comment)
mike mentor June 12, 2012 | 10:13 a.m.

I made an observation about one of your posts Frank. If you feel it was an attack, maybe you want to examine your posting behavior a litte more closely. To borrow the lyrics from the song "Pepper" (The band name might not pass the no cussing rule...), "You never know just how you look through other people's eyes...".

I actually liked the basis for the joke. The whole, lazy liberal wants someone else to do the work for them, thing. But, there is a time and place for everything. That is what this article is trying to establish. Some kind of agreement between all of us for what kind of community we would like to see here. If we can't even get through this discussion without it degenerating, what does that say about us?

Personally, I grew up playing sports and video games in which, "trash talking" was part of the game. I am used to having things said about me that would make my grandma come after the offenders with her purse swingin'. However, we have a wide range of backgrounds represented by this little community here. If I want to be a part of this community, it behooves me to establish the communities culture and what kind of behavior is exceptable within said community. If i need a place to trash talk and this forum isn't trashy enough, I can go pursue that elsewhere. I recommend you do the same.

(Report Comment)
frank christian June 12, 2012 | 10:39 a.m.

I thought I might take a minute about my "brand" of posting. I am conservative. I consider socialism the greatest threat our country has faced. I grew up when the axiom was oft repeated. "No one will ever defeat our U.S.A. militarily. Our greatest threat of this disaster will come from those within." We no longer, ever, hear this. Most however,imo do not believe, the threat no longer exists. Take this feeling or leave it!

I was jumped online, with both feet, by liberals, about my letters on this subject.

I now address each poster, individually, about their comments and the truth they contain. I provide mine with links wherever possible, or needed, and have been complemented, even by liberals for doing so.

To those preferring to "drive by" and spray a propaganda like opinion, full of error, then move on, I'm sure this can be quite disconcerting. However this me and around here, only the Missourian will change it. I, incidentally, was born in this community and have lived here peacefully ever since. Am leaving town now, (as suggested by a liberal?) until Fri. I'm sure I'll want to answer the comments, as I always do.

(Report Comment)
Louis Schneebaum June 12, 2012 | 11:32 a.m.

There are way better Butthole Surfers tunes...

(Report Comment)
Joy Mayer June 12, 2012 | 12:48 p.m.

I think you're safe with the band name on this one, Louis and Mike.

Thanks for resurrecting this thread, Derrick. Setting a limit on the number of individual comments a user can leave on a specific story is an interesting idea. Have you seen that done anywhere?

Would the goal be to discourage one or two people from dominating a conversation? It seems like it might be tricky to determine how many posts count as domination. We do have a definite goal, though, of encouraging more people to join the conversation. And we learned from this questionnaire in the early winter that some people felt unwilling to jump in because they saw the same voices talking to each other over and over.

Ida, I continue to look for opportunities to fact-check comments, and to have our reporters do it. Often, you guys take care of it yourselves, fact-checking each other. If you see a comment you'd like the newsroom to fact-check, you can always email it to us at (The "report comment" button is intended for comments that violate our policy.)


Joy Mayer
Director of community outreach
Columbia Missourian

(Report Comment)
Rich C. June 12, 2012 | 1:24 p.m.

Fact checking is a nice idea and would be a great addition in many topics. However, I think you'll find fact checking political topics to be counter-productive. Or at least fact-checking down to the smallest statistic would be.

Many of the "comment wars" are over the context of statistics and you'll have a tough time defining what is fact and what isn't. Many facts that are regurgitated on the comment board are meant to be sensational and not provide conclusive statistics. They are often repeated from shows like Colbert, Rush Limbaugh, and Bill Maher and are meant to grab your attention rather than inform you.

Fact-checking most of the popular radio and television broadcasters would lead to a conclusion of "Fact - But misleading". I'd expect you'd come to the same conclusion if you fact-checked the comment boards on political stories/op-eds.

(Report Comment)
mike mentor June 12, 2012 | 2:19 p.m.

I can't recall the show, but there was a sports show where they had staffers fact checking the pundits and call in's and gave the correct facts at the end of the show. I thought it added to the show and was often entertaining to hear the group deal with the actual facts. Rich is correct though. Most of the corrections had to do with easier "facts" to establish. Things like who had the highest batting average or who had the most points or something. Harder to deal with facts like, "The liberal agenda of making mortgages available to people that didn't qualify, in order to get them to share the American dream before they had earned it and thus before they were ready for the responsibility that came with it, directly led to the mortgage crisis and the overall credit crisis ;-)

(Report Comment)
John Schultz June 12, 2012 | 5:33 p.m.

Mike, I think you might be referring to Pardon the Interruption. Not a big ESPN watcher since they don't have hockey, but I catch it at the barber shop now and then.

(Report Comment)
Joy Mayer June 12, 2012 | 9:06 p.m.

You guys are absolutely right. We plan to make fact-checking part of our election coverage in the coming months, and a few of the editors just went through a bit of online training on the subject. One of the keys is to start with statements that can actually be proven right or wrong, and it can be quite hard to identify those statements in the midst of political rhetoric.

The fact-checking opportunities we keep our eyes out for are more on local issues. I don't see it being especially productive for us to weigh in on the threads that have more to do with national left/right liberal/conservative debates.

Joy Mayer
Columbia Missourian

(Report Comment)

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