How a Strict Paywall Affects Community at the Financial Times

Many online news media outlets, especially those that were borne out of print publications, have paywalls. You might be able to view a handful of articles, but you have to pay to keep reading. However, some paywalls are stricter than others.

The Financial Times is strict. I was able to read one article, via a Twitter link, and then no more. How does having such a strict paywall affect on-site community building? Community manager and “comments advocate” Lilah Raptopoulos joins the show to talk about it. Plus:

  • What having wealthier commenters does to the comments
  • How the Financial Times identifies the value of on-site community efforts
  • The thing Lilah would like to do next when she secures development resources for the FT comments

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Big Quotes

“[Having a strict paywall] means that we don’t really have a major troll problem. We don’t have a lot of comments that are spamming or going in to wreak havoc or distract people consciously. … That means that some of these issues that a lot of news organizations, with more open paywalls or no paywalls, have are things we don’t have to worry about. But it does mean that, yes, we have fewer comments, and it means that we have different issues that we’re facing around contentious topics than a news organization that doesn’t have such a high barrier to participate.” -@lilahrap

“You [have] a commenter who has commented very thoughtfully on a number of topics, but about the European migration crisis, they leave a comment that could be considered Islamaphobic. It’s careful in its wording, but clearly prejudiced, or maybe a questionable interpretation of the facts. It gets a hundred likes. If you delete it as a moderator, you lose the opportunity for someone to respond and have a conversation happen that could actually build empathy and develop these opinions. I’ve seen it happen before in our comments. You delete the comment and the opportunity is gone. The person, and all those who agree with them, continue on unchallenged and convinced of media bias. But if you don’t delete it, and the conversation doesn’t happen, that comment thread could make a Muslim reader feel unwelcome on our pages, and not willing to participate, in a place where otherwise, if it felt more open to that point of view, might. I don’t want that either.” -@lilahrap

“We have this robust community of commenters on-site. Even though a very small percentage of our readers comment, like most news sites, a surprising, shockingly large percentage of them read the comments. That’s important to us, because these people are our most loyal and engaged subscribers. We care about growing that community, because they’re in our sphere. They’re on our site, they’re having conversations based on our guidelines. It’s a space where they can interact with our journalists. We don’t want to lose them to off-site platforms, which are often thinking quite commercially about creating an experience that’s addictive.” -@lilahrap

About Lilah Raptopoulos

Lilah Raptopoulos is the community manager at the Financial Times, where she is responsible for reader comments and all other forms of on-site reader participation.

Lilah has had a penchant for community journalism since college, where she developed a self-designed major called New Media Studies to explore how new technology has changed the way people interact with each other and their news. After two years in finance, she joined NYU’s Studio 20 masters program in journalism, where, under media critics Jay Rosen and Clay Shirky, she focused on how journalists can use their community of readers as a resource.

Lilah worked at The Guardian on a number of community journalism stories and projects, including the British Journalism Award-winning Keep it in the Ground environmental campaign. In 2015, she reported from Greece on the human side of their financial crisis. She has been published in the FT, The Guardian, Public Radio International, Quartz, BuzzFeed News and Fusion.

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