I’ve been quite busy of late and haven’t found the time to blog – which means that what I intended to say in the post has shifted slightly.
One of the things I’ve been focusing on at the Echo is ways on interacting with our online audience more effectively. I’ll be blogging about it later but basically I’ve been working Twitter, getting involved in our forums, starting an ents blog – and responding to story comments.
It’s the last bit that’s causing me the most grief. Newquest has a register-to-comment policy but doesn’t require any more than an email address and nickname.
So, like almost every other newspaper out there, we struggle with our comments thread being hijacked by anonymous posters who like to abuse the stories, the people we’re writing about, their fellow commenters and the paper itself.
It’s not made easier by a lack of house rules and the fact that if we remove a comment, there’s no ‘removed by moderator’ or ‘reported for breaching house rules’ message. It just disappears. Which often causes its own problems.
As an experiment I tried contacting the offenders to explain why their comments were being removed (the Echo hadn’t been doing this although we do have a standard ‘yellow card’ message we send to people who really step over the line.)
This does have an effect, although it’s time consuming – and there are a certain number of offenders who simply register a new gmail address and have another go.
We’ve got one visitor, from Australia, who’s only comments are about how poor our stories are. There’s another who consistently claims we’re ‘out to get’ whoever the subject of a story is or that we should ‘stop telling him what to think’.
This week’s superstory – the Lapland New Forest extravangza – has had more than 200 comments in its various guises. About 50 are off topic, or are about how no-one in their right mind would have gone there in the first place.
On the one hand, we want to see lots of comments. After all, that’s the sort of audience interaction we’re aiming for, isn’t it?
And I firmly believe that conversation can’t be one-sided: we have to be part of it; the reporters reading and responding to comments on their stories, correcting mistakes when they’re pointed out, or adding polls to a story when what the readers are saying warrants it.
However. The high volume of offensive and abusive comments makes it hard for me to argue this point against reporters who say that by responding to them we give them credence in a way we’d never do with the ‘nutters’ who ring the newsdesk.
There are some days when I look at the comments and my heart sinks. I’d like to ban them all.
So what’s to do? Tougher house rules? Bans for persistent offenders? More moderation? Or just more interaction and hope that if we treat the audience with respect, they’ll treat us with respect?
I’d love to know what you think.