DOI 10.48541/dcr.v7.0 (SSOAR) | ISBN 978-3-945681-07-0
The value of online user comments is a much-debated issue. In journalism, the newly arising possibility for readers and viewers to easily and instantaneously share their views on journalistic output was welcomed at first. Compared to the conventional letter to the editor it represented a democratized form of audience feedback. News organizations increased their presence in the social web and gained more and more experience with user comments. Over time, however, discontent towards the quality of online user comments seemed to grow. But what is the responsibility of journalism in this respect? How do news organizations use the social web? How do they handle online user comments? To what extent do they tap the dialogical potential of the social web for facilitating exchange and understanding between different viewpoints? This study pursues these questions by investigating the case of Germany’s international public service broadcaster Deutsche Welle with its explicit dialogical mandate. It provides an in-depth examination of a transition period in which the news organization is grappling with its self-conception as a serious news provider in the casual social web environment, in which social media editors struggle for recognition from their established colleagues, and in which “stepping back and letting the discussion unfold on its own” serves as a strategy to avoid censorship accusations from users. Based on a specially developed analytical grid the study offers a democracy-theoretical evaluation of the user comments and their handling by Deutsche Welle.