Teaching Examples

Laying the foundation for public discussions
June 18, 2006, 1:46 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

One by one, journalists are discovering the benefits of a two-way conversation with audiences:

One thing online writers like me do, it seems, is start discussions. It’s like construction. We lay the foundation, perhaps even build the first story. Then, readers come in and make it a three-story building.

That comes from Bill Schneider, at New West (which won first place for General Excellence in Online Journalism in the Online Journalism Awards in 2005).

I’m sure they won’t admit it, but mainstream media companies must be envious of this advantage — reader engagement. Some newspapers have implemented reader comment functions, and some have had limited success, but none have the active, unedited comment strings like we have seen on many NewWest.net articles. Community involvement coupled with the unlimited reach of the WWW (i.e. not restricted to a local geographic area or subscription list) sets NewWest.net and many other online content sites … apart from the ordinary sources of news and commentary.

This observation is not new, of course, but it points to one of the less-discussed aspects of the new new journalism — when a journalist enjoys this dialogue, that appreciation fuels and builds the journalism. Schneider values the opinions of readers so much, he doesn’t even mind if they won’t sign their name:

Anonymity not only brings out valuable comments from people who might not otherwise give up their privacy, but it allows the rest of us to benefit from this wisdom.

I was struck by this attitude of Schneider’s in particular because I was just reading an essay by Pierre Bourdieu yesterday (in Bourdieu and the Journalistic Field), and one of the pivotal points in field theory is that new influences and developments within a field such as journalism have various effects on the relationships of objects and people within the field.

I was thinking about the effect of journalists getting a taste for feedback, and maybe refusing to operate without it. Journalists who might reject an employer’s efforts to control or constrain a blog, for example. Journalists who might demand a public discussion.

Related post: Pierre Bourdieu

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2 Comments so far
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I just started working with my college paper, The Daily Texan, one of the most respected college papers in the nation. They just implemented a comment function on their website and at the new reporters’ orientation they warned us about it. They told us not to comment back to those who comment on our stories, for the reporters to not even read their comments, and for the reporters to not comment anywhere. This made me rather angry but I didn’t want to be the multimedia freak who spoke out. I regularly comment on stories from our paper, I may be a writer but I’m also a reader. And I also read my comments, it gives me new perspectives on the questions I should have asked or other leads I could pursue. I just felt like what is the point of even bothering to have this feature on the site if it’s not going to be used and encouraged. I know some young and volatile writers can get angry at some of the comments and flame back at the writers, but if they can be trained to stay calm and deal with the feedback it will only be a good thing.

Comment by Bigredbarbie

I agree with you, bigredbarbie, that preventing a two-way conversation seems like a clueless policy in this day and age! You’re right that some inexperienced posters might flame the readers’ comments, and that would be inappropriate. As you said, the answer is to TRAIN the new reporters in proper behavior — not censor them!

It reminds me of all those old editors in the 1990s who used to say, “If we give the reporters access to the Internet on their own desktop, they will look at pornography all day.”

If you have employees looking at porn in the workplace, your problem is not the Internet! You have a personnel problem. You have employees who do not know how to behave appropriately in the workplace.

It’s stupid to blame the Internet for people’s bad behavior.

Comment by Mindy McAdams

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