Improving the reader experience

Despite being in PhDland, I still call myself a journalist (even though much of my part-time job requires me to be a churnalist). I love the news and I love being a part of the profession that reports the news. Sure, I criticise it, but my criticism is about pushing it to be better because I believe it has to be better if it’s going to be relevant. (Having said that, I don’t know how many journalists are even aware of News with Nipples or give a shit about what I have to say. So, you know, there’s a very big chance that I’m just preaching to the converted here.)

We need journalists to give us stuff to blog about, but there’s one thing in particular I think journalists can learn from bloggers: respect for comments.

Most journos I know don’t read the comments left by readers on their stories. Sometimes they have a quick look, but usually just to roll their eyes at comments they consider to be stupid and/or ill-informed. Well, you know what? If your readers are ill-informed, whose fault is that?

Obviously journalists can’t respond to every comment – many stories get hundreds – but the same gaps in knowledge seem to pop up in each story. For example, comments saying asylum seekers are illegal queue jumpers and economic refugees. This is the perfect opportunity to respond with facts. Actually, that’s probably a bad example because this info should be included in the story in the first place. But you get the idea.

News sites should set a couple of ground rules that pop up when a reader starts to leave a comment, such as insisting that all stats must be backed up by a hyperlink to the relevant info on a reputable website. No link and the comment won’t be published.

Monitoring and responding to comments also allows the journo to update their story with additional info – making it more relevant to their audience and a better story. If it carries your name, don’t you want it to be good? Sure, journos are busy and this takes time, but you know what? Many journos have busy periods and then cruisey periods throughout the day. And I think giving more information to your readers when they display a need for it can only improve the quality of comments on news websites because, fucking hell, they’re generally appalling.

11 responses to “Improving the reader experience

  1. Nice idea, NWP.
    If you reward good, constructive comments, by highlighting them in an update version of the article, you’re more likely to raise the tone of comments. Comments become a race to the top, not the bottom.
    I don’t know about excluding comments without sources. What about encouraging readers to help each other find support for their views, and rewarding that.
    Wikipedia can encourage a culture of collaboration (with exceptions of course). But news services rarely attempt anything like it. If you’re only response to participation is to roll your eyes, you’ll rarely get more than trolls.

  2. I often find that *I* don’t want to read the comments to a story on a news site purely because I know it will induce certain levels of rage that I am pretty sure are hazardous to my health. (And the health of those around me)

    I love your point, that many commenters are woefully underinformed and well, whose fault is that? I don’t think it’s always the reporters fault. Many people will infer what they want from the written word, regaurdless of what’s actually written there.

    But yes, generally speaking, if news stories were better written with actual information in them (rather than the he said/she said story devoid of any real story at all) and if commenters were required to validate their ‘statistcal’ opinion, then perhaps the quality of readership comments would improve as we might actually find the intelligent discourse that most news readers are turing to bloggers for, instead of the reactionary trolls who spew their ignorant and poorly structured comments all over the place like untrained puppies.

    wow, go the run on sentence.

    • Rhiannon Saxon

      I liked that run-on sentence. And so my comment will be – ‘What Pirra said.”
      I find that reading the comments on ‘Drum’ articles is like eating my way down a huge bag of crisps- initially delicious and addictive and yet as I keep going back for one more, I become more and more sickened and over-full of rubbish.

  3. Maybe these journalists are so famous that they don’t give a toss what anyone thinks of their writing? Actually I doubt that.

    Sometimes (and I exclude myself in the present instance) the comments are better than the article itself.

  4. And the difference between journalists and columnists is?
    The comments section at News Ltd is the same for both. If you post something they don’t like it gets deleted.

    Perhaps your ideas are better to be applied to your blog and blogs in general.
    If all the information is available via a comments section why bother with the old media cartel.

    • The thing is, our audience collectively knows more than we do about a story. Always. The Guardian knows this and uses their audience much more effectively than Australian news sites do.

      As for the comments at News Ltd and also Fairfax – the people who moderate the comments are generally uni students, one person to moderate all the comments across the entire website for only a few hours a day. So it’s not so much about comments not getting published for ideological reasons, but because there isn’t someone there to do it. And there are usually hundreds of really offensive and/or illegal comments they have to wade through as well. It’s a pretty soul-destroying job.

  5. Confession: I tend not to read comments on my articles when writing for mainstream media. And even when I do read, I brace myself beforehand and don’t respond. I just find the whole culture of commenting on mainstream news sites so depressing, so aggressive, so combative. And for me, the purpose of writing is discussion – not combat.

    I do agree with you that the tone of a comments section tends to be set by the publication. While my blog is very small compared to anything News and Fairfax publish, the tone of the comments is, I think, disproportionately friendly and constructive given the number of readers I have. And I suspect that’s partly because of the tone I set – this is about throwing ideas around, not bashing people over the head with my opinions.

    That said, I don’t know that – even with more informed readers and more interactive journalists, big media would be able to do the same. Big media sites tend to attract commenters who are angry – or at least who come across as angry on the screen, even if that is not their intention (I saw a great video a few months back where a journalist went to meet one of her angriest commenters in person, and he was surprised he came across so aggressively online). I suppose our best hope is to, as you suggest, highlight and encourage the “good” commenters, so that the “bad” ones – who drag down the community and make others less inclined to comment – make up less of the total.

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