Civil Society
2017 Winner

Civil Society

Stuff, Fairfax NZ

Wellington, New Zealand

Category Readership and Engagement

Overview of this campaign

In December 2016 we launched a major project to improve the standard of debate in Stuff's comments section, aiming to make commenting more attractive and accessible to a wider section of our readership - boosting engagement - while shining our brand halo by publicly taking a stand in favour of civility.

This was something of a contrary step in a year when high-profile media outlets - including NPR and Radio New Zealand - gave up their comments sections, either because they were underutilised or low-value.

Our project had five planks:

* Soliciting reader feedback on our terms and conditions

* Modernising and strengthening those Ts & Cs

* Re-training all staff in best practice moderation procedures

* Hiring specialist comment moderators

* An editorial series advocating civility, explaining our moderation process, and explored the etiquette around commenting.

Stuff's comments section was in rude health, with roughly 5000 comments lodged on a busy day. (Comments are pre-moderated before appearing live.) But we had become concerned that it had developed a poor reputation, becoming associated with vitriol and discrimination. We wanted to ensure readers weren't put off engaging, and to reinvent our comments section as an entertaining and enlightening place for constructive debate.

This is of obvious value to Stuff. Aside from the fact that readers must sign up for a free Stuff membership before they can comment, it speaks to our sense of identity. Fairfax New Zealand’s mission statement is to help Kiwis connect and thrive in their communities. We offer our readers a voice and a sense of community on Stuff. Constructive debate on matters of public importance is vital to our democracy. What’s more, comments help us remain connected and accountable to our readers.

Results for this campaign

We sought audience feedback on our terms and conditions for comments using our UGC system Stuff Nation, receiving 105 responses.

Our editorial series launched with a post from Stuff's editor, which prompted robust debate, attracting 840 reader comments.

The content roll-out featured creative storytelling, including:

* A video guide on how to argue well, commissioned from local satirists

* Opinion pieces from a reader who loves the comments section and another who has tasted its dark side

* A quiz inviting readers to moderate comments

* A live chat about between Stuff editors and readers

* Data analysis

Combined, the stories drew over 180,000 page views. Other media covered the project, with Radio NZ interviewing Stuff's editor.

These verbatim reader comments demonstrate the range of views the project elicited:

"Stuff is not telling you how and what to think, you can think whatever you want, Stuff has just decided there are some thoughts that they don't want to publish, which is their right - they don't have a responsibility to host your views."

"The comments section is completely controlled by Stuff. It is a violation of free speech. There should either be no comments, or all comments (apart from bad language) should be posted. Protesters during the French revolution were not moderated even though the Crown would have wanted that too. Stuff should not control the peoples message."

"Stuff is fostering a broad definition of tolerance and acceptability of humanity as opposed to a narrow definition of what is an acceptable form of being a human. So in the comments section it is not okay to attack other people along lines of race and gender for instance. ... It is tolerance and civility that is being engineered."


To contact a company representative about this campaign, click here for the INMA Member Directory

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