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Opening web site to public feedback?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by goalmouth, Jul 10, 2007.

  1. goalmouth

    goalmouth Well-Known Member

    My company is in the middle of a thorough web makeover. While we post news throughout the day, our parent company is big on building online 'communities,' such as discussion boards and blogs, to invite reader reaction. Before we jump in with both feet, I'd like to hear from people here about their own experiences in opening up their sites to reader commentary. My editors are old line print guys and the propsect of boards and blogs makes them, shall we say, apprehensive. We don't have many bodies, so any moderation/gatekeeping would be minimal.

    Since I'm a well-known wise-acre around here, feel free to make snarky comments. But try to include some useful info, if possible. You can PM me, too, if you like. Thanks.

  2. lantaur

    lantaur Well-Known Member

    A little paper called the Washington Post had a problem with open reader posting - but in the end went back to it (of course, they have a slightly bigger staff than most to help moderate things :)).

    If a company is really concerned, the best way is to have a double opt-in (i.e. sign up, then get an e-mail where you have to hit a link to agree). I think Fark actually has it where it takes a day to get the e-mail, thus further alienating "idiots." Of course, you're also likely to piss off "regular" people who just want to post and don't want to go through all that hassle.

    Another way is to do one of those "enter the scrambled letters" kind of thing that ticket sites (like MLB.com) use.

    Hope that helped at least a little bit. :)
  3. Runaway Jim

    Runaway Jim Member

    We do it with our website. In theory, it's a great idea. Gives the readers a chance to chime in with immediate feedback. Originally, the plan was for reporters to actually be able to respond to posts, thereby fostering positive debates.

    Unfortunately, trouble quickly came into paradise. We forgot that some anonymous internet posters consider a day where they're not calling their newspaper staff a bunch of profane names is a day wasted. The whole thing degenerated into a free-for-all, with a handful of about 20-25 posters habitually running down everyone involved with the paper in some of the most creative ways I've ever seen.

    I got called a bleeping jerk for writing a column about the death of my grandfather, tying it into sports by talking about how he taught me everything I knew about baseball and how my love for the game always makes me think of him. Not A-1 stuff, obviously, but certainly worthy of 15 inches on a slow news day.

    I don't understand why people feel their newspaper should be obligated to give them a forum where they can post any libelous bile that pops into their heads, but our readers obviously feel that way. Any attempt we make to modify posts or incorporate some rules of decorum is quickly screamed down.

    I wish one of our execs would grow a set and nuke the whole thing, but I won't hold my breath waiting. We're stuck with it. I just try to ignore it and hope someday these people will get lives (again, I won't hold my breath).
  4. pseudo

    pseudo Well-Known Member

    Didn't work so well for ESPN.com at first...

    If they're serious, they HAVE to figure out some form of moderation, profanity filters, whatever. Otherwise, you'll end up with the same kind of freak show Runaway Jim described.
  5. MilanWall

    MilanWall Member

    Ours is about 95 percent spam, 4 percent libel or insults, and 1 percent useful commentary. We have to okay a post before it's published, but it's annoying to spend so much time just deleting spam over and over again.
  6. captzulu

    captzulu Member

    Profanity, trading insults and moronic arguments go hand-in-hand with message boards/forums/blog comments. If you're going to provide a forum for people to express their opinions, be prepared to deal with that. You either have to decide that you will live with some of that crap, or you'll need to have someone spend significant time moderating the forums. And be prepared for the reader reactions to your stories to be more negative than positive. After all, how many of the reader calls you get are from people who are calling to compliment you?
  7. Walter Burns

    Walter Burns Member

    What he said. We're a Gannett paper, and they're batshit about Community Conversations. We've got one ex-correspondent (he quit) who apparently has it out for me. It's actually kind of entertaining at times, but there will be lots of slings and arrows from people who have no idea what they're talking about.
  8. playthrough

    playthrough Moderator Staff Member

    I don't understand the feedback thing and newspapers' fixation on it. I quit reading comments on my stories, I became so incensed at the junk people threw up there. Papers should charge $5 a month or something for readers to be allowed to get a username and post. That will instantly get rid of the riffraff, and who knows, maybe it'll make a couple hundo a month, which makes some beancounters as happy as $20,000 made off the print product.
  9. ARD

    ARD Member

    Sacramento Bee stopped allowing anonymous posts: http://www.sacbee.com/acuna/story/260489.html
  10. Sxysprtswrtr

    Sxysprtswrtr Active Member

    I think you have to evaluate your company's purpose or goal for opening up the floodgates:
    Do you want reader interaction to assist in your decision making when it comes to business or story play on the site?
    Are you just curious which stories stir emotions and feedback?
    Do you want your publication to assimilate to others offering a forum environment?

    Once you have the answer, then you proceed.

    My paper's site exercises restraint when adding comments functions to certain stories because the anonymous vitrol, sexist and racist comments will most likely ensue, ie - stories on immigration or school bonds.

    I do think it's a good way to have reader feedback -- you have the ability to host forums/comments/message boards yet you apply it a judicious manner.
  11. funky_mountain

    funky_mountain Active Member

    i like and dislike this feature on our site. dislike for all the reasons already mentioned - knuckleheads, conversative vs. liberal, racists and chronic complainers. sort of like this site. at our place, it's impossible for one or two people to monitor all the anonymous comments. however, we have people monitoring certain stories, and they try to help reduce the inappropriate comments. sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

    but i've also found witty and intelligent comments. sort of like this site. i know reporters at my place have found decent sources and stories through our comments section.

    i like the sac bee's policy, and if were in charge, i'd think about doing that.

    i don't have all the links at my disposal, but the gist of it is that readers have long felt it has been a one-way conversation between the newspaper and the reader. now, the reader is part of the conversation, in part because the web can offer space for comments unlike the printed product. it's also a way to keep folks on your site, which 1) has the potential to increase page views and 2) creates a community.
    you can agree or disagree with these reasons, i'm just relaying the thinking behind it.

    again, as i say on a lot of these threads about newspapers on the web, you don't have to buy into all of it, but when your paper is and many other papers are, it's a good idea, at the very least, to pay attention to what your shop is doing and why.
  12. goalmouth

    goalmouth Well-Known Member

    This is all good food for thought. Thanks.
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