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Politico's Ben Smith, at recent event  Photo by Sandra Abrams

To pay or not to pay for comments, an economic model for Politico and other new media darlings

Politico's Ben Smith, at recent event Photo by Sandra Abrams

As the structure of old media falls away and new media is transforming the future of journalism, companies are grappling with the new media economic business model. To pay or not to pay to comment on Politico’s website maybe one way to augment the bottom line.  The Attleboro (Mass.) Sun-Chronicle is charging for the privilege to do just that per one of our readings, paywall-for-comments.

Politico is seeking new ways to beef up its balance sheet. Just this week, reports surfaced it will start a subscription news service focused on segmented sectors: health care, technology and energy. The news will be what Capitol Hill, agencies and associations are doing in those areas. Subscribers will be charged $1,500 to $2,500 a year for the first topic and then $1,000 for each additional industry.

But paying to comment will give us other problems. Assessing Politico’s comment systems may give some insight. Politico has a two systems. For those who wish to response to the general website stories, there is more of a “laissez-faire” approach with about 18 guidelines. But for those focused on its Arena section, if you want to comment, there are stricter procedures. In both cases, people have to register to comment. And Politico takes it one step further than other sites, people can and do indicate political party affiliation. Avatars and fake names such as Wiz-ziw are acceptable. (screenshot when I figure it out)

For Arena, which is a cross-party forum with different  topics selected by one of three editors (recent forum question, arena) there is a designated moderator. Not true for Politico’s general site. Comments for the Arena section can be made by using the “chime in” tab and civility is critical. You have to register under your full and REAL NAME, so there goes the issue of anonymous. Also, there is a restriction on word count, fewer than 200 because all responses are read before they are published which again, is in contrast to the general site.

For its general site under FAQ, question twelve gives you all the answers with the actual ground rules for comments. After saying it  never censors based on party or ideology, there is a list of 18 guidelines from no profanity, no abusing fellow readers and no spamming. This is different from HuffPost’s policy, “allows a reasonable amount of profanity and a stated policy against Trollish behavior.” There’s no dedicated moderator but all inappropriate comments will be reported to the law enforcement. Also, in the comment section in the lower left is a place where respondents can hit one of three icons: reply, quote or report abuse.

(screen shot)

I did not see anything over the top during my perusal of the site’s comments except for one respondent, named “greyhawk.” He had four comments for one answer, out of the 200 for a story about Tim Kaine: Nice Guy in a nasty time (story here, 44156.html). Greyhawk wrote what appeared to me, a manifesto entitled, “Art of War and Warface.” It did not seem to me that anyone from Politico stepped in to take action. He appears to be a regular to Politico’s site from the comments I read on other stories with long answers to the story or other comments. Too long.

Also, to comment directly to any editorial staff member, just click on the “about us” at the bottom of the site. Click on a name, and you will get a picture, a box for your comment and where appropriate, a list of stories and top websites. For example, Roger Simon,to contact him directly, click here.

With Politico so hands off about commenting, why not make money from it? Using the Kaine story, the 200 comments at one dollar each, an easy 200 bucks. For Greyhawk, that would $4.00 for his comments. Or the story about Nancy Pelosi basks in Michelle Obama’s softer image ( Nancy & Michelle ). The story has 118 comments would translates to $118 dollars. But given that in this political cycle, the level of antagonism is higher than in previous years, would it mean that the  people who can pay will take over the conversation just to ratchet up the discourse? I have concerns about those who can pay and those who can not, and paying means you take away the level playing field. If the pay to pontificate model was put in place at Politico, would we see an even bigger digital divide?  And finally, would we see an increase in vitriol behavior because of the attitude, “I paid there I can say ***?” The Internet is an evolving medium and with Politico looking for new revenue streams, this maybe an option but if you are leaving some people out of the discussion then that is not fair.