Tag Archives: interaction

Live blogging: why such a disaster?

I’ve just written this for our Ask the Echo blog.

We tried an experiment this week. Three lunchtime live webchats focusing on Bournemouth Borough Council’s proposed budget cuts.

We spent a lot of time thinking about the best time and structure for these blogs – the council had asked us to help get people involved in the budget consultation, and we were happy to do so. It’s your money, after all, it’s only right that you have a say in how it’s spent.

So we decided on three blogs focusing on specific subject areas. A councillor and council officer would come in each day to answer questions and respond to comments.

We posted a story about each blog, with a form for submitting questions if you weren’t able to be there live. We also made sure each story had details about exactly what cuts were being considered.

And we chose lunchtime because our previous experiences with evening blogs had not been very successful.

The response, however was underwhelming. Even Cllr Stephen MacLoughlin putting in an appearance on Thursday wasn’t enough to provoke a response.

Today’s blog, about cutting funding for ASBOs, stopping closing drug dens because it costs too much and switching off the town’s CCTV cameras, was cancelled because not a single question was posted.

Reader numbers for the blogs never made it out of the “few dozen”. So we’d like to know why.

Is it the format? The time? Are you not interested in the budget options? Do you think it’s not your job to decide? Whatever the feedback, we’d like to hear it. Be constructive, please… we really want to know how we can make these discussions work for you. There’s a form <a href=http://www.bournemouthecho.co.uk/yoursay/ask_the_echo/> here </a>…

Essentially this week’s discussions have been a very damp squib. The most response we got came from the issue of bowling greens (it costs the taz payers £200 per year per bowler to keep the greens maintained.)

My theory that is people comment, on stories or blogs, only when they feel personally outraged by the subject in question.
Ask for their opinion before a decision is made, and they don’t have one (unless they feel something underhand is happening, of course). But tell them that decision has been made and they’ll be outraged that it wasn’t the choice they wanted.
Or maybe it’s simple apathy about politics and councils in general. Maybe people feel their opnions aren’t needed. Maybe they thought the options in question were so ridiculous they weren’t ever going to get the nod.

Hopefully we’ll have more respsonse to the why than we did to the original blogs… will let you know!


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Comments or no comments?

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.

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