The misconception of online comment threads

Web 2.0 has opened the gates to journalism for online audiences which increasingly participate in the production, dissemination and response processes of news.

Comment threads in particular have grown exponentially in recent years as readers have embraced the opportunity to bypass the Letters’ Editor and publish their opinions directly to a newspaper website. This rise in participatory journalism has led to new challenges for journalists as they have striven  to negotiate the often murky waters of user-generated content.

To date, research in this field has been mostly limited to national and  international news websites despite local news providers having a close connection and engagement with their communities. My latest paper in Journalism Practice entitled The misconception of online comment threads therefore seeks to fill this gap partially by analysing the content of comment threads on two British local newspaper websites via a content analysis, while also exploring the experiences of journalists via news room observation and interviews.

A contradictory picture emerges whereby journalists accept with some reluctance that comment threads possess a democratic function but one which is potentially damaging to the brand as well as resource intensive. This is juxtaposed by more positive findings that reveal buoyant levels of interactivity between readers in comment threads together with a thirst for
engagement in public affairs.

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