How to handle online comments

Whether it’s a blog, reader reaction link or online forum, news organizations have been struggling with the issue of user comments.  To moderate or not to moderate, that is generally the question.

Recently, Editor & Publisher’s Ernest Wiggins surveyed the 10 largest circulation newspapers in the country to find out how they handle online feedback.

All of the papers reviewed — USA Today, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, New York Daily News, Philadelphia Inquirer, Denver Post and Houston Chronicle — have some mechanisms to monitor user-generated content, ranging from comment screening by staffers to encouraging users to report offensive postings themselves.

USA Today, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, the Daily News, Philadelphia Inquirer, Denver Post and the Houston Chronicle require registration before users are permitted to post. (The others do not.)

The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, L.A. Times, New York Daily News and Denver Post preview comments before they’re posted.

We’ve come a long way from the days when nothing went online at a traditional news site without someone within the organization giving it the OK.  So, what’s the result?  A free-for-all or a free flow of ideas?  Or somewhere in between?