Why can't a newspaper be more like a blog? Part II: Comments

Every year, newspapers hold conferences about online news and they invite the people who run Slashdot, Kuro5hin, and other geeky community sites to speak to them. They listen raptly to tales of how to build community online. And then they go back to their home markets and continue to dump their news on the Web.

I know of no US newspaper that lets its users attach comments to news stories — something nearly every does. If you want to comment on a news story, you’re going to have to put a pointer to it somewhere (on your blog, on a community site, on a static page) and put your comments somewhere else. No one can reply. No one can provide their opinion. No one can provide their insight from direct experience of the story.

Nobody who reads the story on the original site will be able to find your comment, because newspapers don’t support trackback (more on that later). And people who read your comments won’t be able to read the original story after it is moved to archives, usually about two weeks.

Free content management software is so competitive that it’s hard to find a package that doesn’t offer a pretty good facility for adding comments to individual posts, and most are moving in the direction of (optional) user registration. What that means is that there are literally millions of web sites run by regular human beings that welcome comments from readers.

Newspapers demand registration and acceptance of advertising email as a condition for reading their news, but none use those registrations to create a community.

It’s hard to find a better example of how newspapers still treat the Web like a broadsheet.

Note: Jonathan Dube’s piece “101 ways to improve your news site” addresses some of the issues that I’ve raised in this series. But he doesn’t address trackback.

9 thoughts on “Why can't a newspaper be more like a blog? Part II: Comments

  1. “I know of no US newspaper that lets its users attach comments to news stories — something nearly every [blog] does.”
    Keep an eye on us in Lawrence, Kansas. 😉

  2. Variety.com was the first newspaper in the world to offer trackbacks.
    It has had unedited commenting allowed on every story and review for over a yar — in a popup window because of technology constraints, but clearly linked at the bottom of each article.
    Any Variety subscriber can access all articles back about 13 years — there is no separate archive search or additional fees for older content.
    When I was editor of Variety.com, the comments were lively, but rarely inflamatory. More newspapers should try it; worst case, you have to turn them off again.

  3. Thanks for the note.
    I have to note for those who don’t already know this that Variety is a paid subscription site. I believe you has to pay even if you subscribes to the print edition. That makes it easier to integrate archives and the site, and to manage comments. These things are a lot scarier for free sites.

  4. I run a Newspaper site in Pueblo, Co (chieftain.com) we currently have 4 years of archives online with no charge to view them and our articles stay where they are put the day they are published.
    I have tried to get our management to let us do comments but so far had no success.

  5. We’re redesigning the Badger Herald, a student paper in Madison, WI. The current site is abysmal, but the new one follows all of your recommendations — including accepting comments and putting them on the story pages for all to see.

  6. Web sites as applications
    There’s been a lot of talk lately about “improving” the UI of the Web. Mostly by trying to add standards for “rich” clients. Gruber has come back with an equally thoughtfull, and in my opinion, correct analysis of the Web&…

  7. We have been allowing comments on every single story for over a year; i do put the commenting form at the very end of each story so that people will actually READ what they want to talk about, but i also have a running count in a subhead on the brief of how many comments there have been. We also have an exclusive feature that we incorporated in our recent redesign – to date NO other paper has done this: – where I as editor have the option of letting the page re-order by number of comments; this is a nice relinquishing of editorial control back to the public. We ‘re just recovering from debugging the redesign, as we built it all inhouse; but im planning to add trackback and RSS in the next few weeks, and as soon as we can fit our commenting system onto our inhouse built blogs, we’ll be offering those too.
    our local/regional page at the moment is reordered by comment:
    http://www.santafenewmexican.com/santafenm

  8. What Newspapers Can Learn From Blogs
    Barry Parr has written an excellent series called Why Can’t a Newspaper be More Like a Blog?. He outlines very well why I am so frustrated with online news sites, so much that I now only check Google News. This…

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