Journalists’ use of newspaper comment sections in the newsgathering process
As computers and, increasingly, cell phones, are used by an ever growing percentage of the population, newspapers have turned to online comment sections accompanying articles as forums for readers to communicate. Journalists differ greatly in the extent to which they use comment sections for source development and newsgathering, however. Comment sections that allow for anonymous comments often include expletives, personal attacks and other vitriolic language, a turnoff for some. Some newspapers have sought to curb vitriolic language by requiring commenters to list their name or use some other form of name verification, such as using a Facebook account to make a post, since Facebook requires a first and last name. This research consisted of an online survey sent to reporters (N=100) at dozens of daily U.S. newspapers. The purpose of the research was to examine reporters’ use of newspapers’ online comment sections and to study differences in responses between reporters who worked at newspapers that allowed anonymous online comments and newspapers that required some form of name verification, such as Facebook, that includes a commenters’ first and last name. My research found that there was a statistically significant difference in frequency in which reporters at newspapers that allow anonymous comments and newspapers that don’t allow anonymous comments read their newspaper’s online comments: reporters who work at newspapers that allow anonymous comments read them more often than reporters who work at newspapers that require commenters to include their name. There was not a statistically significant difference between the two groups in their responses to how they use the comments to find information for another story or find sources or attempts to contact commenters to find additional information for a story. There was not a statistically significant difference in the two groups’ responses to whether they attempted to contact commenters for additional information for a story, reporters’ feelings on how reading comments make their jobs more efficient, or reporters’ feelings on whether reading comments was an efficient way to find story ideas. Additionally, reporters were given the opportunity to give suggestions on how to make comment sections more useful for reporters.