Let's assume the cost of moderation/a community person is $60k with a further $40k in platform and miscellaneous costs per year. That's a total of $100k per year.
Let's assume the typical online newspaper advertising rates are $15 CPM (cost per 1000 impressions).
Every time impression is therefore worth $0.015 (more specialized sectors can charge more).
To justify the community expense, the community must therefore generate a minimum of 6.6m extra impressions per year, that's an extra 18,265 impressions per day.
People click on an article regardless of the comments (it's a news story after all).
This means return visitors to each individual news articles has to hit 18,265 per day. Assuming most, let's say 70%, of those continually returning to an article are participating in the comments and returning to read the responses (there isn't much data on this), that's around 12,785 comments per day.
My bet is only the very biggest newspapers and news sites get close to that figure (HuffPo, New York Times etc…). The rest aren't even close.
Even if they did get close, their moderation costs would rise significantly and push the break-even point higher. And this is before we consider allocation of overheads, distraction costs, and opportunity costs.
There are a lot of assumptions here. We're making basic assumptions about moderation and platform costs. We're using general data on CPM rates and assuming CPM is the only business model for the online news sites (it usually isn't).
However, in the past few months we've seen several news sites closing their comment sections citing poor quality of discussion and rise in popularity of Facebook/Twitter.
I suspect that's a cover story for a simpler problem.
They've done the maths and realized that most comment sections of national newspapers aren't generating a positive return on investment.
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