Comments can provide readers a voice. Comments can provide a space where readers can contribute new information, like sources sparking new stories, investigations and reports.

Comments can also, among other benefits, increase website traffic for news organizations.

A list of questions to ask and best practices for news organizations seeking return on investment for the commenting platforms they provide.

Approximately 70 percent 101 newspaper and online editors/publishers surveyed across the country said they valued comments, according to a recent Associated Press Media Editors survey. That doesn’t mean comments are easy. In his letter to readers announcing The Chicago Sun Times’ temporary suspension of comments, Managing Editor Craig Newman captures the paradox.

“The world of Internet commenting offers a marvelous opportunity for discussion and the exchange of ideas,” wrote Craig Newman. “But as anyone who has ever ventured into a comment thread can attest, these forums too often turn into a morass of negativity, racism, hate speech and general trollish behaviors that detract from the content.”

Recently there has been more movement to improve systems for commenting and reader contributions, such as The Knight Foundation’s investment of $3.89 million to help The New York Times, The Washington Post and Mozilla create an open-source community engagement platform. And there have been many calls to turn off comments.

As The American Press Institute’s first Summer Fellow, I examined these deliberations and took a closer look at what types of comment sections news organizations are using, and what, if any, value they are adding to news organizations’ overarching strategies. I reviewed academic and industry literature, spoke with industry managers and university researchers and conducted a small poll of news organizations across the country. The result is a list of questions to ask and best practices for news organizations seeking return on investment for the commenting platforms they provide.

After researching for two months, I’ve identified these five problems news organizations struggle with regarding their commenting systems.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution. But for the specific problems within these five challenge areas, I’ve identified key questions, considerations and links to further reading for evaluating what commenting strategy works best for you.

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