How comments affect reader perceptions

There is always a flurry of talk about citizen participation in media and the value of  two-way conversations in journalism, but does the addition of public comments to the bottom of a news story affect how other readers perceive the story? One researcher at the University of North Carolina conducted a study to start the ball rolling toward better understanding of this question.

University of British Columbia journalism professor Alfred Hermida blogs on about the preliminary research on the topic that was presented at the Convergence and Society conference in South Carolina. PhD student Michele Jones found that statistically the comments didn’t make a whole lot of difference in the readers’ perception of bias, but the personal thoughts portion of the study suggested that reading comments might have affected the way a story was perceived. Hermida writes:

“So, for example, people might see the original story as balanced, but
the tone of the comments made them wonder if the journalist had
deliberately chosen pro-life or pro-choice comments.”