Date of Award
Master of Arts in Digital Journalism (MADJ)
Hesbon Hansen Owilla
Graduate School of Media and Communications
There has been an ongoing debate in Kenyan newsrooms on whether or not to retain the comment section on news websites in the wake of Social Media Networks which allow the media to still get user feedback devoid of any liability of unregulated third-party comments. This study set to establish the role and influence user comments have on editorial processes as well as explain what value media houses that have retained the comment section are receiving. Using methodological triangulation, this study analysed the nature of user comments, how comments influence editorial processes and the value the three media houses with an active comment section are deriving. Phase I involved a content analysis where the data was coded and analysed quantitatively then presented using tables and pie charts. For phase II, a survey was done, and the data analysed with SPSS and presented using tables and pie charts while Phase III involved in depth interviews where data was thematically analysed. This multi-method approach exposed aspects of reality which were insightful. The results indicate that contrary to the perception that discussions in comment section on news websites are often marred by incivility, this study found that majority of the comments were deliberative in nature with audience members simply looking for a platform to lend their voice in a civil way. The study also found that in cases where there were reported incidences of incivility, the sources quoted were the main trigger. Journalists were found to be using user feedback through the comment section as a measure of the quality of content they churn out while media houses are using the audience insight to make strategic decisions. New roles have emerged, and media houses are increasingly interested in getting audience feedback as they shape how they generate new story ideas, topic selection and story placement on their news websites. In addition, media houses with active comment sections have defined parameters within which they can incorporate user feedback in their day-to-day editorial processes and maintain their gatekeeping mandate without compromising on the news values that dictate what is considered as news. The results shed light on how newsrooms may give the public a platform to discuss and give their input on the news and still maintain deliberative debates.
Oywer, Beryl Anyango. (2022). Online audiences and gatekeeping: user comments and their influence on editorial processes in newsrooms in Kenya (Unpublished Master’s Thesis). Aga Khan University. Graduate School of Media & Communications