The New York Times unveiled a new online commenting system today. Jeff Sonderman of Poynter and Chris O’Shea of FishbowlNY cover the changes pretty thoroughly — as does Chris Lefkow of Agence-France Presse, who interviewed me for his story.
The Times deserves a lot of credit for taking comments seriously enough to do a rethink. The centerpiece to its new policy is that “trusted commenters” — invitation-only contributors with a track record of being thoughtful and civil — will be able to post without pre-screening as long as they are willing to do so using their Facebook accounts.
Why does Facebook matter? Yes, it’s the social network that we all love to hate. But it also requires its users to provide their real names. And we’ve all become accustomed to behaving a certain way on Facebook.
We share our pictures, we wish each other a happy birthday, we send cheery messages to friends from high school whom we haven’t seen in years. All of this is the antithesis of the nutty, often racist comments that pollute many newspaper sites.
Comments matter. They can be a way for news organizations to establish a community and carry on a conversation with their audience. They haven’t worked out as we might have hoped 10 years ago. But that’s no reason not to keep trying.