Thursday, December 08, 2005

Online newspapers need reader comments

Online newspapers
need reader comments

My buddy Rob "Roblimo" Miller, a kind responder to my Blog Pro Survey that I conducted earlier this year, has a lot to say about Newspapers vs. Internet.

Roblimo is a great theoretical thinker who can back up his recommendations with ample experience and keen observation.

You should consider reading his excellant analysis at:

"A Recipe for Newspaper Survival in the Internet Age"
Slashdot, Nov. 30, 2005

Roblimo singles out a nearby paper, The Bradenton Herald, as an example.

Here is a brief excerpt from his article on Slashdot.

Notice how he emphasizes the extreme importance of online comments and comment moderation.


....Meanwhile, when newspapers talk about readership vs. circulation, they're typically trying to estimate how many people read each copy of their print product (pdf download) rather than come up with a total picture of their publication's readership, including its online presence.

This is a mistake.

Instead of treating their Web sites like unwelcome stepchildren, newspapers should turn them into their primary method of news delivery -- and teach their reporters, editors, and ad sales people how to work effectively with this new -- to them -- medium.

Slashdot Lessons

1. No matter how much I or any other reporter or editor may know about a subject, some of the readers know more. What's more, if you give those readers an easy way to contribute their knowledge to a story, they will.

Imagine a newspaper with a space for comments below each story on its Web site.

This Slashdot story has comments directly attached to it, not tucked away from public view the way the Bradenton Herald's site hides reader comments on Bulletin Boards that aren't directly connected to any of the paper's articles or editorials.

To make matters worse, the Herald's Bulletin Boards require a separate login to post. Even if you're a logged-in reader you must put in your username and password again to use them.

As a result of these posting barriers, you hardly see any reader comments on the Herald's site, and what few there are seem to come from a small group that posts over and over.

Even the Herald's single (hard to find) blog, maintained by token hip-dude entertainment reporter Wade Tatangelo, draws so few daily comments that you could count them on the fingers of one hand -- and usually have four or five fingers left over.

By contrast, the Washington Post's Web site has two blogs, Achenblog and The Debate, prominently displayed on the Opinions page that almost always draw 100+ comments per post.

A truly Web-hip newspaper would not only allow but encourage reader comments on all of its stories, not just on a blog or two.

With thousands of readers as fact-checkers, mistakes would rarely go uncorrected for long, and if there was any perceived bias in a controversial article, reader comments would make sure the other side got heard.

Even better, a reader who witnessed an event the paper covered would be able to add his or her account of it to the reporter's, which would give other readers a richer and deeper view of it.

2. Not all readers know what they're talking about.

While some readers know more about any given topic than a professional journalist writing about it, most don't. Some, indeed, post anything about anything, including misleading or false information.

This is why Slashdot has a moderation system, and why all newspaper Web sites need to have moderation systems in place before they allow reader posts attached directly to stories. Slashdot's, which is built into the code that runs the whole site, is probably too complicated for most newspapers, but everyone (including newspaper publishers) is free to download, use, and modify it.

For those who don't want to use the code behind Slashdot, there are many other free (and proprietary) content management programs available that have similar -- and often simpler and less geeky -- moderation features built into them.

3. No matter what you do, some readers will post malicious and/or obscene comments

Slashdot removes posts only in response to Cease and Desist orders or legitimate copyright infringement complaints.

We find that malicious or obscene posts are usually moderated into oblivion almost immediately, because our readers -- hundreds of whom have moderation power at any given moment -- have a sharp eye for stupid stuff.

A mainstream newspaper might choose to remove blatantly disgusting posts, which would take some staff time. There would also -- inevitably -- be second-guessing and complaints, including whines from readers who believed their posts were removed because they didn't follow the [fill in political party here] line, not because they used offensive language.

Moderation never makes everyone happy. Someone will always feel the rules are too loose, while someone else will believe they're too tight. And moderates -- I mean moderators -- will always get flak from ____-wingers who think they're biased.

But these problems shouldn't stop grown-up newspaper people from soliciting and publishing readers' posts. They should already be accustomed to bias accusations.

4. What if readers post comments that advertisers don't like?

This is a problem, and one to which some newspapers are extremely sensitive --not just over readers' comments but sometimes over their own reporters' stories. A 1999 Washington Monthly article had some examples of how newspapers sometimes cater to advertisers instead of their readers.

Allowing readers to comment on stories, and allowing them to post anything they want (other than obscenities, blatant hate speech, and personal attacks) increases readers' faith in the newspaper, which makes it a more effective advertising medium in the long run because some of that trust will rub off on advertisers that support it.


This is a much longer article, and I highly advise everyone to take a few moments to read the entire thing. One smart guy, that Roblimo, and nice, too.

There may be blogs that function without comments, but think long and hard before you decide to not allow readers to add their input.

If you have a blog that doesn't allow comments, perhaps you have legitimate reasons. I'm not trying to disrespect you. But why? Why do you not wish to hear from your audience?

I can think of no good reason to not let readers post comments to your blog. Comment spam or abusive comments? Easy to prevent, eliminate, and control. Word Verification, Email Comment Notification, and Comment Moderation are what I currently use. Free, easy, and effective.

That's the beauty of Blogger.

Blogs, and really almost all online presences, need to be interactive, two-way conversations.

Oh, yeah: check out Roblimo's personal site: Roblimo

I'm going to be reading him more often. I forgot how much we seem to have in common philosophically.

From "Will 'Dead Men Walking' Replace Communism?"


Sadly, I think I now know what is going to replace Communism as the threat that keeps our country's wealthiest 5% from becoming even richer by making life harder for everyone else.

It will not be an "ism" with a charismatic leader.

It will be series of individual acts of violence against wealthy corporate leaders and their political cronies, carried out by people who feel they have nothing to lose.


He goes on to discuss what he learned in the Army about how a nuclear strike against military targets can be a bad idea--you end up with "dead men walking", highly contaminated, very doomed and very pissed off soldiers, looking to get revenge.

The greedy American jumbo-corporations are creating their own vengeance-seeking monsters with offshore outsourcing, downsizing, pension raiding, bloated CEO compensation, cuts in health care benefits, forced early retirement, etc., ad nauseum.

And, as Roblimo states, it wouldn't take very many of these corporate-created monsters to do a lot of harm.

Tragically, I have to agree with Roblimo. Neither he nor I want to see it happen. But both of us are convinced the Anti-Corporate Red White and Blue Terrorist is coming, and coming soon. Just think of how many families and individuals are being ruined by greedy, sleazy mega-corporations.

"Envy thou not the oppressor and choose none of his ways." (Prov. 3:31, KJV)

How many schmuck ass pastors ever preach THAT sermon?

Has any church, mosque, or temple of any sort ever denounced corporate greed and selfishness?

[signed] Steven Streight aka Vaspers the Grate



Harvey Dog said...

I hope you're wrong about the violent acts Vaspers, but looking at the state of the world today it's too close to our current reality. That is what scares me. The 5% will use any violent acts against them to strengthen their positions, by manipulating the media to portray them as the victims. Violence leads nowhere but more violence.

"Roblimo" makes sense about the power of the web as a news source. The power of incorporating reader comments for every story is exciting. Instead of the controlled one page "letters to the editor" at the back of the paper, which many times ends with the editors final word. In regards to comment moderation, I have it turned on myself even though I find censorship appalling. People have different viewpoints and have to be allowed to express themselves. However, if it's just spam hatred or spam of any kind...deletions are necessary.

Guru T-Lu just came in and commented how the right-wing corporate America uses paranoia as a weapon against its enemies.

She's right. Keep everybody paranoid against what threatens the interests of the 5% (ie. other countries, other cultures, other beliefs), and this is done through manipulation of the media. Keep the youth hooked on the idiot box and testosterone fuelled video games, and away from the "real" issues that threaten their future. I know it's hard. When you're young, you have other distractions...big distractions. I hope that there are enough who do care, and are doing something about it. I know I need to do more.

Interesting stuff.

steven edward streight said...

I'm not political in the partisan sense. I don't give a flying fig about Democrats, Republicans, Socialists, Whigs, whatever.

But I see how those who protest globalization labeled "anarchists" by the Morbid Stream Media.

Like George Washington and his ragtag band were called "disloyalists" or whatever, back in our nation's Revolutionary War period.

Good thing the colonists were "anarchists", "disloyalists", "non-conformists"...which resulted in our liberty from oppressors like King George.

The 5% Most Wealthy Americans can manipulate the MSM all they want. Nobody pays much attention to the Morbid Stream Media anymore anyway.

People are getting their news and opinions from the internet and each other now. The tide has turned against the Information Fascists.

Right wing America does bad things, and so does Left Wing and Middle Wing and I don't see any difference between them at all.

Parents keep their kids doped up on Ritalin, occupied with Harry Potter crap and violent video games, and they try to live vicariously through them, and try to dominate them sadistically.