Heard mentality: Here’s how to boost women’s voices in news comment sections

Marie Tessier, lead moderator of reader comment to The New York Times opinion pages, wants women to be heard as much as men in the commenting sections of news sites. She spent a year as the project leader of an institutional fellowship at the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute exploring how to raise women’s voices in this important civic forum.

She has developed a backgrounder video about gender-informed news product development. It explains how women are underengaged and underserved in many aspects of the retail economy, and how their motivations for engaging with technology products are often ignored during product development work. The video is geared toward providing a business, engagement and product overview using research findings to help explain why women are left out in news comments.

In the video, she explains why women’s motivations for using and accepting a technology product is different than men’s motivations, and why that matters to news businesses — especially at the beginning of the product development process.

Tessier says women’s communication values are based on relationships — like on social media — as a key element for women to adopt the use of technology products. In news comments, this means women’s motivations are different than men’s. While news comments sections were designed as a place for people to leave an idea or a reaction, women are motivated by participating in a conversation where people listen and exchange ideas.

Another key takeaway from Tessier’s fellowship is that women dislike the adversarial culture of online comments. While men tend to take the parry and thrust of comment sections in stride, women are more likely to disengage when adversarial rhetoric is used.

Newsrooms need to understand, Tessier says, that women are underengaged in all kinds of civic affairs conversations. And to the extent that news businesses are claiming a platform for civic engagement in the digital age, they will need to think creatively to ensure that all people’s voices are represented.

You can follow Tessier on Twitter at @Suffragist.


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