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Story Comments

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Italian_Stallion, Mar 23, 2008.

  1. Italian_Stallion

    Italian_Stallion Active Member

    There's been lots of talk about online newspaper comments. Today, I met with huge disappointment when I looked at a just-published feature story on a skydiving competition to find that the damned person who coordinated it posted a long rant.

    It didn't ruin the story. I think it's a great story, but I sure can't send anyone to the link if I want to use it as a clip, and the editors are going to get the wrong impression. What sucks is that I did nothing wrong. The person is mad that I didn't cover the extreme skydiving event as a sport and that the story makes skydivers out to be "crazy people."

    The only time crazy was used was when one of the participants said people think she's crazy.

    The story was a local section feature. I was asked to write about the people and their uniqueness. So I wrote a story about the common bond of skydiving and how it brings together diverse people, all of whom love the excitement of the sport.

    The result of the competition was supposed to be summarized in a single graph. It wasn't a sports story at all. Yet the guy complains that the paper's sports section covers cage fighting, which he says isn't a sport, but doesn't cover skydiving as a sport.

    After launching all these missiles at my story, the commenter proceeds to copy his poorly written press release with its all-caps designation for words he thinks are especially important and quotation marks around the name of the event and just about anything else he thinks doesn't quite deserve full capitalization.

    I'm just pissed. We were the only one of four different newspapers and five different TV stations to cover the damned event, and the guy is completely ungrateful.

    I know the short answer is that the guy's a dick and I should just blow it off. But don't you get tired of dipshits anonymously trashing your work? If I were a national columnist, I could take the heat. But I'm trying to impress editors and climb the ladder. Instead, some jackass is knocking me off the ladder.

    The bigger picture, I guess, is that editors no longer get phone calls. Instead, people just toss a complaint on a Web site, where everyone else can read it. In the past, papers would sort out the complaints and then only post corrections, etc., when one was warranted. Now commenters can say just about anything. And the sad part is that people tend to pile on because they have this sense that the media is about the same as the government, an all-evil empire trying to alter their world to the detriment of living things.

    Had the person sent the message directly to me or to an editor, there would be a conversation. Instead, it's just this nameless post at the end of a story. I don't know what the ethics folks say. Can I e-mail the guy? Should I e-mail the guy? Should I send the editor a note explaining things?
  2. Boobie Miles

    Boobie Miles Active Member

    If you need it for a clip, couldn't you use a printer-friendly version? That wouldn't have the comments.
  3. Italian_Stallion

    Italian_Stallion Active Member

    Bingo. I can't do that with archived stories because the option disappears. But you can do it with current stories. So that fixed the clip issue. It still leaves a big problem. What I most despise are the comments on stories about serious matters. For example, my hometown paper allows comments on murder stories, crash stories, etc. I actually read a crash story a few weeks ago from someone complaining that two local kids killed in a crash got less coverage than the campus shootings at NIU. The person made the argument that it was just as tragic.
  4. PCLoadLetter

    PCLoadLetter Well-Known Member

    I've ranted on this before, but I think allowing online comments is a huge mistake.

    I can tell you that if your story ran in my local metro paper the comments would have broken down into two camps. 50% would post "why is this news?" The other 50% would post that we should drop Mexicans out of planes without parachutes. And I'm not exaggerating.

    There was a story on a 15 year old girl who is a very accomplished musician. It had a photo of her standing in front of her school. Comment number two: "That chick really needs some breast implants."

    I would bet the number of people driven away from newspapers because of shit like that is far greater than the number who are attracted by the "reader involvement."
  5. ECrawford

    ECrawford Member

    A pet peeve. There's no way comments should be listed at the bottom of stories. You should have to click a separate link. Newspapers are falling all over themselves to get interaction with readers on their web sites, and that's fine. But they need to draw a much clearer line between what is generated by readers and what is generated by staff.

    Having said that, these anonymous people have just as much right to have their say about what we write as we have to write it.
  6. PCLoadLetter is right. I stopped reading the comments on my stories because the people making them were so stupid. To support part of his claim:

    We had a story a week ago about a 14-year-old girl who ran into a burning building and saved a sleeping woman and her baby. There is a picture of the heroic girl (who happens to be Hispanic) standing outside her house and one of the first comments was: "Someone call the INS." Awesome. Who wants to read shit like that at the end of an otherwise uplifting story?
  7. Tom Petty

    Tom Petty Guest

    i don't care if the story is uplifting or not. i just don't want to read shit like that.

    and we wonder why our medium is dying.
  8. deskslave

    deskslave Active Member

    One of these days, a newspaper is gonna get sued for libel for what's in the comments section of its Web site. It's gonna say that's not staff-generated content, and it's gonna lose the case. I'm just waiting for the day.
  9. Tom Petty

    Tom Petty Guest

    libel on the web is a very tough case. much different than real print.

    it still bankrupts credibility, though.
  10. Pete Incaviglia

    Pete Incaviglia Active Member

    I would say this has some legs only because newspapers have the option of filtering comments (i.e. they can delete obscene, racist, sexist posts) before they are out there to read.

    If a paper elects not to use this method, it's somewhat condoning the comments; the good, bad and ugly.
  11. mustangj17

    mustangj17 Active Member

    In a small market it is nice to read comments. Its also nice to get feedback from your family and friends, especially when you aren't a big shot and a little encouragement goes a long way.
  12. spup1122

    spup1122 Guest

    We screen all comments before they're posted and we screen them closely.

    We have a big story that's gaining national attention in our market right now, so comments have been rushing in from all over the country. Some are tactful and some aren't, but for the most part, they aren't about the way the story was reported as much as the nature of the story itself.

    In fact, we rarely get comments from people criticizing the way we reported something. We approve them if we do, though, as long as they are factually correct.
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