Commenting in 'a better, safer and productive way': What you need to know about comments on News24

When News24's subscription service is launched in August, readers will be able to leave comments below articles.
When News24's subscription service is launched in August, readers will be able to leave comments below articles.
  • News24 reintroduced comments below articles as part of its new subscription service.
  • The comments platform has been developed by US company Coral by Vox Media.
  • The platform allows for stronger, smarter moderation to create a safer, more productive online dialogue.

Comments are back on News24 as part of its digital subscription offering – five years after a decision was made to stop publishing comments below articles.

READ | Q&A on lockdown Level 1: News24's editor Adriaan Basson in discussion with subscribers

"The News24 team has spent the past year making sure we are able to bring our subscribers the best commenting experience possible," says Alet Law, News24's engagement editor. "In pursuit of this experience we found Coral by Vox Media, a platform created to make commenting sections more of an interactive experience between readers, rather than a place where trolls and abusive behaviour is the order of the day."

Born as The Coral Project, the platform was founded as a collaboration with the Mozilla Foundation, the New York Times and The Washington Post, with a grant from the Knight Foundation. They then moved to Vox Media in 2019.

Coral today counts The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, New York Magazine, LA Times, The Seattle Times, and now News24, among some of their partners.

Adriaan Basson | A new era for news as News24 prepares to launch digital subscriptions

Their vision for its commenting platform is simple: to bring journalists and the communities they serve closer together.

"It helps journalists engage with readers in a better, safer and productive way," says Andrew Losowsky, head of project at Coral.

How does Coral work?

"The top priority for News24 when we began discussing the reintroduction of comments was how to make sure conversations are kept respectful and on topic," says Law.

Coral uses artificial intelligence as first measure of defence against potentially harmful comments. This system flags suspect words and phrases and is able to pick up on sentiment in messaging that may be unconducive to a respectful commenting environment.

These messages are then sent to the second line of defence – a human moderator – who will be able to take the final decision.

Moderators will also review comments that Coral has approved as acceptable for publication, and Coral will learn from these reviews in order to inform future decisions.

"Coral contains several moderation tools and services that make monitoring the conversation faster and easier for our team, helping us ensure that the conversation stays civil and on topic," Losowsky says.

Users are also given the option to "respect" comments, rather than liking or disliking them, and interesting or insightful comments may be chosen to be "featured" by News24's moderators.

Reimagining the comments section

Coral has created the platform to operate in such a way that allows for a two-way conversation to take place. It has been done with the goal of creating a space where the newsroom can engage with readers in a more meaningful way than ever before.

This could take shape in the form of a journalist, editor or columnist joining readers for an hour or two in the comments to answer questions. This could also translate into a regular commenter being invited to write a column for News24, or a journalist picking up a tip from a reader that leads to a brilliant story.

"Both readers and journalists around the world have found Coral has improved conversation while also providing new ideas and opportunities for reporting," Losowsky says.

He notes that the success of a comments section ultimately comes down to a clear purpose, clear rules and visible and consistent enforcement of these standards.

"Every single space has norms that need to be enforced – if someone suddenly started screaming and yelling abuse in a coffee shop, the staff would make them leave, and everyone else would applaud them for it," Losowsky explains.

"We need to start treating our online spaces the same way, by establishing and enforcing norms that make comments a more inviting and thoughtful space for discussion around our journalism."

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