Everything in moderation: how the New York Times does reader comments

Hat tip to Nieman Journalism Lab for spotting this exchange on Quora which sheds light on the New York Times’s attempt to cultivate more meaningful exchanges “below the line”. 

The question posed:

How does the NYT determine which articles have comments?

The answer was provided by the New York Times’s community manager, Bassey Etim. He wrote:

The vast majority of NYT comments are handled by a human moderator. This means that we have to make an editorial decision about which comment threads we will open for comments each day. Also, we adhere to a sort-of “slow moderation” theory, which posits that the best way to respect the commenting efforts of our readership is to ensure that their comments exist in an urbane, literate environment. (Definitely not an approach that is good for everyone, but it works fabulously for us, for reasons you can probably divine.) Our goal is to have every NYT comment thread offer tangible added value to each article for our readership.

The costs to this approach are obvious — it takes a long time, and many stories do not get comments. But NYT readers expect the highest-quality everything from us, so that’s what we deliver.

To boil it down, Etim lists  “general criteria for opening a story for comment, generally in order of importance”:

– News value of the story
– Projected reader interest in the story
– Have we recently had comments on this issue?
– Whether we can moderate the projected # of comments in a timely fashion

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