Tag Archives: readers

Engagement: some unexpected downsides

Engagement: some unexpected downsides I have discovered this week.

1) the people you think might be interested, aren’t. One of our most voracious commenters (and a frequent critic) has stopped commenting compeltely. After an initial willingness to engage in a conversation, they stopped talking to us at all. Is that because they don’t like being asked about their opinions? Don’t want to accept that we might have a different view? Sinply preferring trolling? Or is it because they think our responding to their comments is unwanted intrusion? I have no idea which it is.

2) There might be some things that actually shouldn’t be discussed in public. Yesterday one of our readers took offence to the removal of comments on a story about a grieving family. The comments were about what causes road accidents in the place where a young man died.
Our policy is that comments are only open on those stories to allow people to place tribute. Normally we’d post that at the foot of the story when it’s uploaded: on this occasion it was accidentally left off and I had to post it in retrospect.

One reader took this as a personal affront and developed our Twitter “discussion” into accusations about whether grieving families should talk to the press.

I felt, rightly or wrongly, that giving that reader details of how we came to speak to said family wasn’t really appropriate in a public forum: it’s none of their business if they choose to come forward to speak.The reader, though, assumed that my refusal to engage in an argument meant that the family didn’t come forward and that we must have obtained the quotes by underhand means.

So what to do? Our integrity is being questioned, in public, but I can’t defend us in a dignified fashon. In the end I offered to speak to the reader face to face, they called me a hypocrite for not being able to take criticism.

And finally, and most unexpectedly, 3). If people are used to a chatty, social, entertaining Twitter feed, they might take offence when you post serious news.

We didn’t really post much on twitter yesterday about the tragic deaths of a family in Fordingbridge. The RSS feed posted an initial story, then we tweeted when the family were named, because the updated story wouldn’t feed through the RSS.
We also tweeted to say we had video footage from the scene going online – it was a policeman giving a statement and some reaction from the town; less in fact than had been on the rolling news channels all day.
Some of our readers felt Twitter was not the place for such news. Which made me think. We didn’t treat it any differently than any other news story. But should we have? Do people expect different things from the news they get from Twitter? Does adding detail make you seem in some way ghoulish? Is it because of the specific kind of story?

I’d be very interested to hear any thoughts about any of these points. Twitter has not been my friend this week but hopefully we can learn something, even if it’s just when to keep our mouth shut.

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Facebook and the share link – why they still own us forever

After electronically boring poor Laura Oliver to tears yesterday about Facebook, and then waking up this morning to discover they’ve revoked their terms because of the furore, I thought I’d make use of the thousands of words I’ve written as a post.

First, I can see the argument that legally Facebook needs to be licensed to use your content even if you close your account so that people you’ve shared things with (who may then have shared them with other people) still have access to them. For Facebook to promise that if you left, everything you’d ever posted would be removed from the profiles/groups you posted them to (and then from all the other profiles they’ve shared them with), would be a bit ludicrous.

Second, I may be naive but I don’t think being able to package and reuse our content is the reason Facebook have rewritten their terms. I think lawyerspeak makes it sound worse than it is. Amanda French’s post about the comparison with other sites shows that they could have rephrased to mean basically the same thing but sound less threatening about it. (although I don’t think she’d agree that’s what she’s demonstrated!)

Third: as a newspaper, we WANT people to share our content. The point of us being on Facebook is to get people to share our content, so that the generation of people who’ve never read the paper or think it’s irrelevant to them will start to make us part of their lives.

Facebook has thousands of Bournemouth users. Only 24 of them are friends with us so far. Most of them don’t use our site.

We can only get them interested in what we do by being where they are. We want them to share our content among themselves and with their friends. To build a community – people who will then use us as (one of) their news providers – we have to engage with them and stop assuming that we have a right to their attention

Once you’re encouraging sharing, you can’t really then turn round and stop people using your stuff. How can you police it? And if they’re crediting you, why would you, when it’s free distribution to an audience you wouldn’t have thought about reaching? (obviously I’m not an idiot: this is subject to copyright and the ‘linking to’ proviso…)

We have had occasions where reviews (our McFly review was a prime example) get cut and pasted onto fan forums and all the traffic goes there. How do we get round that? By having other stuff (video, audio) on our site that will pull some of that traffic over to us.

But fourth, and most importantly: we have a ‘share on facebook’ link on all our stories. Now let’s just look at what the old TOS say about share links, shall we?

By including a Share Link, Online Content Provider automatically grants, and represents and warrants that it has the right to grant, to the Company an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide licence (with the right to sub-licence) to use the Share Service in order to link to, use, copy, publish, stream, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part), summarise and distribute the content, links and other materials of any kind residing on any web pages on which Online Content Provider places the Share Link.

Now unless all newspaper groups are planning on taking this link off their sites, there’s not a lot of point getting hot under the collar about the new TOS.

Note – I don’t think this is designed so Facebook can steal our stuff. I think it’s badly worded legalese that covers them for all the ways people access FB and how it packages content. But I could be wrong….

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Greenslade v subs (part two)

No sooner had I finished part one than Roy posted this.

There are two things here that I would like to address:

1> Subbing can be competently performed by people who have no especial link with a given paper.

I’d say adequately. Not competently. But here’s a thing. A good local paper stands for something. It has an identity.

And that identity will be one of our most valauble assets in bringing readers online and ensuring our survival.

Take away local subs, who care about and are proud of their pages, who know what the paper is and what its stance is on everything from how it reports suicides to in what context you can use the word interweb, and you take away part of that personality.

One of the things I’ve been trying hard to do at the Echo is build a sense of an online community. It’s one of the things the BBC radio brands do well – make you feel like they are a family and that you, by listening, are part of that family. That’s what we strive for.

So we have an avatar – the deck chair – that is more than just our masthead. We call the office Echo Towers, partly because I’m a bit of a geek, and partly because (I hope) it makes our Twitter followers feel like they’re getting the inside track.

We have a joke in paper about our TV columnist and her kitten heels. Our What’s On picture captions are legendary. Our sections have an identity and the people who sub them know what that id is and why it matters.

Our readers probably wouldn’t know the difference if that changed. But they’d know there WAS a difference.

Perhaps we should spend more time building newsrooms full of people that DO have a link to the paper.

Aside from the obvious advantages – obscure spellings of street names, knowledge of the history of stories and characters that can be invaluable – maybe there’s a more subtle, but more vital effect.

A paper readers can identify with. A product staff care about. Pride in your work. A sense of place. Readers notice when you spell place names or school names or surnames wrong. They know the backstory, and when you don’t they’ll happily point it out (while telling you how rubbish your paper is).

And who among us can claim that reader loyalty and brand identification won’t matter in the future? In the new age, newspapers will need to market themselves. Outsourcing or templating your subbing diminishes your brand. Slowly, maybe, and subtly, but it does. That’s why Roy’s wrong.

And point two?

This: “I am talking newsprint here, incidentally. It is noticeable that punning headlines work less well online and, of course, the page design is irrelevant.”

More follows in part three!

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