A little respect

Photo by Marjorie Kamys Cotera

Building a new website from scratch isn’t easy. TribTalk, The Texas Tribune’s new opinion page, was nearly a year in the making when we launched it three weeks ago. 

But building a site from the ground up has allowed us to experiment with new design and functionality, giving us more control over the little things — like our commenting system.

If you’ve read or posted comments on TribTalk, you may have noticed a “respect” icon where you’re used to seeing a “like” button or something similar. There’s a reason for that.

Earlier this year we partnered with the Engaging News Project at the University of Texas at Austin’s Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life to find out how readers interact with comments on news stories. We wanted TribTalk to be a place where anyone reading a column would feel comfortable responding to it in a public forum. But how?

Our friends at the Engaging News Project had some ideas. In particular, their research had found that readers were more likely to engage with comments when they could “respect” — rather than “like” or “recommend” — other people’s ideas. It makes sense, too: What if you don’t necessarily “like” someone’s opinion but you think it’s well written, well argued or otherwise deserves credit? 

It’s a subtle touch, but we hope it nudges readers (as well as contributors, who are welcome to engage with readers) toward thoughtful and courteous discourse on the issues that matter. After all, that’s what the Tribune is all about.

As Talia Stroud, director of the Engaging News Project, put it recently: "Given the political polarization facing our country, this may be a way to help citizens find common ground. What better platform to employ this idea than on a nonpartisan site dedicated to sharing opinions?”

What do you think of the “respect” button? Leave a comment (or respect one) on one of our latest op-eds that has people talking, like "The problem with 'Abortion Barbie,'" by Sherry Sylvester, or last week's most-read piece, "Why I'm running for mayor of San Antonio," by Mike Villarreal. Or, as always, send us feedback at [email protected].

And remember that we’re accepting column pitches from readers like you. Learn how to submit here.

David Muto

Editor of TribTalk