When Journalists Go “Below the Line”: Comment Spaces at The Guardian (2006–2017)

Scott Wright, Daniel Jackson, Todd Graham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Based on a longitudinal research design (2006–2017), this article analyses how Guardian journalists engage in “below the line” comment spaces; what factors shape this engagement; and how this has evolved over time. The article combines a large-scale quantitative analysis of the total number of comments made (n = 110,263,661) and a manual content analysis of all comments made by 26 journalists (n = 5448) and their broader writing practices with 18 semi-structured interviews conducted in two phases (13 in 2012 and 5 repeated in 2017–18). The results show that there is considerable interest in comment spaces amongst readers, with exponential growth in user commenting. Furthermore, there has been significant engagement below the line by some Guardian journalists, and this is often in the form of direct and sustained reciprocity. Journalist commenting has waned in recent years due to difficulties coping with the volume of comments; changes in editorial emphasis; concerns over incivility and abuse; and a decrease in perceived journalistic benefits of commenting, alongside the rise in importance of Twitter. When journalists comment, they do so in a variety of ways and their comments are often substantive, significantly adding to the story by, for example, defending and explaining their journalism practice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107-126
Number of pages20
JournalJournalism Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Comment fields
  • content analysis
  • journalism practice
  • online newspapers
  • reader comments
  • user-generated content

Cite this