Thoughts on invisible comments 2.0

The other day, Bobby Ross Jr. wrote a rather provocative post entitled, "In CAIR of the NYTimes" which was a follow-up post after one of his all-time button-pushing efforts, which ran with the headline, "An Okie asks: Is RNS the new CAIR?" However, while the original post drew 36 comments (many of which were quite enlightening and the result of some constructive criticism both ways), the sequel, for some mysterious reason, received no comments whatsoever from GetReligion readers (unless you count an exchange between me and Bobby about the lack of comments).

Oh well, whatever, nevermind.

I mention this for the following two reasons.

First of all, your GetReligionistas have paid attention to emails from readers who have requested that we add some kind of system that allows readers to express their feelings about posts with some kind of simple click-on icons that say "Like" or "Dislike." Often, we are told, people want to express their agreement with the subject of a post, but don't have a specific comment to which they want to sign their names.

Well, that tweak in the software is in the works. In fact, since turnabout is fair play, it looks like we'll also be able to have "Like" and "Dislike" buttons on the comments left by readers, as well.

Second, I have always been interested in the types of of posts that always seem to draw bushels of comments and the ones that draw the sound of cyber-crickets. This is actually a very important subject in digital journalism because many editors are starting to make editorial decisions (including the size of paychecks) based on the number of clicks and comments generated by specific subjects and writers.

That's a bit frightening. I mean, if you can get Episcopalians, Mormons, Lady Gaga, Vatican II and theological disputes about gay rights in the same post, you are going to digitally reap what you have sown.

I addressed some of these matters in a short presentation a few years ago when the Religion Newswriters Association met here in Washington, D.C. Click here to tune in on that. That led to a GetReligion post that ran under this rather cynical headline: "How to avoid comments at GetReligion."

Anyone who has helped run a weblog linked to religion news will recognize some of the concepts discussed in that post. Here is a refresher course on the fine art of avoiding comments.

* Praise the work of mainstream journalists. Negative writing inspires more debate.

* Focus on trends in Judaism, Islam or other faith groups that (in U.S. media) are not all of that powerful or viewed as out of the mainstream.

* Try to call attention to journalistic issues linked to foreign-news coverage about religion.

* Openly seek calm, informative feedback from readers about how to solve a journalistic puzzle that needs to be solved.

So if you want to throw cold water on a comments board, all you have do is write a post that praises a mainstream news organization for its insightful coverage of an important event on the other side of the world, while also asking for feedback about the issue that's involved. Right, that's the ticket.

So here I go again. Are there any additional bullet points that veteran GetReligion readers would like to add to that list, especially those of you who are journalists linked to religion news, blogging or communications work for religious groups?

Come on, speak out. Or not.

IMAGE: From Wikimedia Commons

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