A quick thought about story comments

Anyone who follows me on Twitter (or who’s read this post) will know that story comments and the negative atmosphere they can create has exercised me recently.

But here’s a quick thought. Maybe the ‘quick to criticise’ aspect isn’t so bad after all. Frustrating, yes, but also a challenge.

Take this, for example.  I like this story: How Bournemouth Christmas Tree raised the roof From Bournemouth Echo.  It’s quite funny. It’s seasonal.

But as one commenter points out, it also includes a pointless adjective (don’t ask me who subbed it, I don’t know) and there’s no mention at all in the copy of the firefighters in the picture, why they’re putting a smoke detector on the top of the tree or how dad-of-three Grieg persuaded them to take part.

Two things I think this illustrates: the web DOES need subs. Whatever you call them or however your system works, somebody has to have quality control, final checks, removal of lazy cliches.

Point two: We can’t get away with the kind of reporting my old tutor, the legendary John Foscolo, would have called slapdash (actually I don’t think I ever heard him say the word slapdash. Would definitely have been a D- though.) If we do half a job, people WILL pull us up, in public, and immediately. And that’s no bad thing.

Frustrating and annoying and embarassing, yes. But in the long term, maybe it’s good for quality?

When I was a news editor, under the equally legendary Anita Syvret, I made sure our copy was as good as I could make it before I showed it to her, because I knew what she’d say if I didn’t.

Perhaps our angry story commenters are the virtual equivalent of the angry editor or chief  sub. They won’t accept sloppy writing. And why should they?

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2 thoughts on “A quick thought about story comments

  1. Dilyan says:

    I see you’ve deleted the unnecessary word. So here you go, your commenters are your subs. They do it for free: you’ve got to love them.

    Much of commenters’ aggression is due to their belief their grumbles will go unnoticed. If I were the Bournemouth Echo, I would have the author of the piece comment on the story, thank Mike Pickering and tell him the story has been corrected. That way he’ll be very likely to be more civil the next time he spots an error.

  2. Alison Gow says:

    Sam this is such an important issue, and it’s also a really delicate one. Because the reader feels strongly, s/he tends to express their view in strong terms. And the reporter (and isn’t it always the one who isn’t really that sure about the idea of interaction?!) immediately gets defensive, which is human nature when facing criticism.

    I agree with Dilyan as to the best way to respond; people can get a bit flustered when the object of their ire suddenly replies and is revealed as a Real Person, and it can start a worthwhile dialogue.
    Also, as I learned when we liveblogged the day in the newsroom, other readers will defend a reporter/the newspaper if they think the criticism is unfair – something that gives you a warm glow when you’re wondering about the best way to respond to a “Why are you wasting your time doing this – go and write some news!” comment.

    Of course, anyone who survived Anita Syvret’s editorship is obviously a force to be reckoned with; readers commenting on your website should take note…

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