Online comment sections on news sites are generally regarded as horrible, especially when anonymous writers prevail. Many sites have abandoned anonymous comments, but Reuters, PopSci and other publications have killed their comment sections altogether.
Obviously, there is an innate value to taking in community feedback and there has to be a place for that. What the news organization needs to do is maximize the reward (to audience and organization alike) and minimize the costs. I can get behind the kill-comments movement if it means that the website evolves smarter interactivity and empowers readers to actually help each other and the publication.
Forums — First, create a section for reader interaction that exists outside the content section. At the bottom of articles where comments would normally appear, offer an option to “talk about this in the forums.” Clicking it creates a linked thread back to the article. If a thread has been created, this button could intelligently say “Join 10 other people talking about this topic in the forums.”
Look at the popularity of link/forum sites like Reddit; they develop intensely passionate fans. Volunteer moderators could be trained to keep discussions civil. This should be an in-house module rather than sending people to other networks to have the conversation.
Content-aware actions — At times, readers use the comments section to call out a publication’s mistakes, to disagree with a writer or voice some other complaint. Based on the nature of the content, different actions could be provided at the close of the article:
Opinions/editorials/columns – A button for up vote/down vote to show aggregate community support or disapproval of the article stance. A button for “write a letter to the editor” that takes you to a page with tips on how to write an effective letter that would be published.
Movie/restaurant/reviews – A method to “post your rating” with a pre-determined scoring system. Your critic’s scores can be matched up with the readers, like a Rotten Tomatoes for restaurants, bars, local events, etc.
Event previews — Buttons to “add this event to my calendar,” open a locator map, buy tickets. After an event, the recap story can ask specifically for attendees to respond.
General news — An option to “Report a correction” should be on every article. You could also have calls for contributions, photos, videos right there as well, if the event is well suited for crowd-sourcing.
These would be some interesting features to build into a news-based content management system.