Articles / Recommended Reading

Reader comments influence reader perceptions

A few months ago, The New York Times Sunday Review published an article by Dominique Brossard and Dietram A Scheufele titled This Story Stinks.

On the face of it, the article discussed a topic we are familiar with: how media (in this case, both print and online) shapes our perceptions and the relationship we have with articles and stories that appear in the media. In other words, what we read in newspapers, magazines and on the internet influences our perceptions, our thinking and our lives.

It’s this editorial – that includes the content, the editorial stance or point of view, and the writer’s skill and personality, in a combined manner – that ultimately determines the power of the media brand or product, finding its (core) audience and building relationships with them at individual and personal levels.

However, this specific article, deals with a topic that’s a step beyond reader perceptions on/from published articles in print or online. It brings into context (and focus) the increasing participation in, and relevance of, reader comments.

Image credit: NYTimes.com

Image credit: NYTimes.com

In earlier days, we had ‘Letters to the Editor’ towards the beginning of the newspaper or magazine, which clubbed together comments from readers on various past stories, articles and photographs.

Although ‘Letters to the Editor’ had a loyal following, encouraging comments and rebuttals from readers and the Editor, this section of the newspaper or magazine lacked the power to influence reader perceptions and reader experience – instantly and significantly.

The online world, with its interactivity and ‘social’ tools, has dramatically changed this. The relationship the reader has with the article he or she reads – and, in turn, the media brand or product – is qualitatively different.

Today, the reader can read an article and instantly respond to it with a comment… which is published right below the original article, visible to all readers. So instant, easy and visible is this process that, soon, comments to an article published online becomes an important and added feature of the original article. Thus, it influences the reader’s perceptions on and relationship with the article in totality.

So powerful is this process that, the authors of The New York Times article This Story Stinks says, “Comments from some readers, our research shows, can significantly distort what other readers think was reported in the first place.” More so, say the authors, in tone and manner than in content.

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