The Globe’s community of commenters

The Nieman Journalism Lab examines the Globe and Mail’s
Catalysts — a new community brain trust that offer the paper editorial
direction and help hold comment sections to a higher standard.

In the summer, the Globe sent out requests to people that receive their e-newsletter — did they have an interest in shaping the paper’s future? The response was in the thousands, and the Globe, Nieman  writes:

“[asked] respondents to write a short explanation of their vision for the paper. Looking for a cross-section of background and location, interests and perspectives — and employing the services of Sequentia for help in whittling down the applications — the paper selected a group of users who are charged with helping to oversee the community elements of the paper’s content. A group of 1,000 or so users, in fact, [Globe communities editor Jennifer] MacMillan told me. (And, of those, about 800 accepted the offer to be Catalysts.) From there, they created a special, members-only section of the Globe and Mail site and then “just started chatting” — about the paper’s future and about the best way to cultivate community around it.”

You can find Catalysts in the Globe’s comment sections via their gray avatars:

Globe Catalyst avatars

The Catalysts’ Code of Conduct, from the Globe‘s site:

“The Catalyst Community was established to help elevate the tone of comments on at and to act as leaders in our online community. They have to abide by a specific code of conduct, in addition to the community guidelines. The following code of conduct was developed by and for Catalysts:

-Help out commenters when they need a hand
-Help keep discussion on-topic
-Intervene when discussion becomes immoderate or personal
-Bring particularly poor behaviour to the attention of Globe staff
-Act in any manner that is representative of a community leader
-Add thoughtful posts that add background info, perspective
-Recommend/vote on comments that add insight and contribute to the discussion

Nieman Journalism Lab thinks the idea has merit:

“It’s a broad mandate that’s along the lines of Gawker’s starred commenter system and HuffPo’s “Moderator” badge. And so far, it’s yielded good results: “We’ve had very good feedback,” MacMillan says, “and I think a big part of that is that we’re giving readers what they were looking for.” The paper’s recent series, “Canada: Our Time to Lead,” made use not only of Catalyst moderation, but also of the Catalysts’ connection to the newsroom. Globe reporters waded into the Catalyst forum, which led to conversations and new (crowd)sourcing opportunities, MacMillan notes. “We’ve never really done something quite like this before, where the contact has been so direct” — and “it was a really fruitful discussion.”

“As for the comments, their volume has held fairly steady since the Catalysts started doing their thing in early October — a recent piece on Canada’s failed bid for a seat on the UN Security Council garnered over 2,000 comments — but their overall value, MacMillan says, has risen. Which is a trend we’re seeing among several of the news organizations that employ a select group of users to do their comment-moderation: investment leads to accountability leads to higher quality. (And to add a bit of incentive, the paper has made a practice of picking a particularly punchy quote from a user comment, and running that quote, via its “You said it” feature, across its homepage.)”