Building a community

News organizations operating online have been developing ever more sophisticated strategies and mechanisms to ensure a constant exchange with their audiences. There are many reasons why news organizations have chosen to invest resources in creating and developing relationships with a community of users:

  • For users, it is important to be able to contribute to the news-making process; to share their opinions about highly relevant and often complicated topics; to contribute information that they feel may be missing from news coverage; and to correct any information published that they feel may be in accurate and thereby offer an opportunity to journalists and editors to re-verify that information.
  • For news organizations, it is vital to be fully aware of the breadth of views and opinions that are present in society; to keep a very close relationship with their audiences; to strengthen the trust of their audiences by showing that they take their concerns and input seriously; and to address possible inaccuracies as fast as possible in some cases thanks to the community of users.
  • While there are numerous positive sides to promoting user exchange, doing so requires an efficient system and very clear guidelines that define the conditions under which users can contribute content and which content will be considered acceptable and valuable.

    This principle is particularly true in the context of preventing and countering attacks against journalists, which can and do occur through the comment sections of news organizations’ websites, in addition to those attacks that arise on social media platforms. In general, these types of public attacks are more common than attacks on journalists sent directly in private messages or email. The reason for this imbalance is that direct intimidation of journalists is only one goal of online aggressors; another aim is to smear journalists on public platforms, influencing audience opinions about them and thereby weakening the trust they enjoy among readers and listeners and, consequently, the power of their news reports to shape the public agenda and discourse. In this sense, these attacks have serious consequences not only for the reputation of the targeted journalist, but also for the news organization itself.

    A thorough, well-developed strategy to moderate user comments is necessary in order to ensure that attacks targeting journalists and news organizations are swiftly removed, alongside other unacceptable comments. Depending on the resources available to the news organization and the number of comments it receives, different strategies can be adopted to ensure the moderation is effective.

    News organizations should also adopt different strategies to moderate conversations taking place on the comment sections of their own website, which generally should receive the greatest attention, and comments posted on social media. The difference in strategies is mostly dictated by the ability of news organizations to remove user posts that do not reflect community guidelines.