Several very observant bloggers (or maybe their tipsters) have noticed that the New York Times had temporarily placed reader comments on the main page with a few of their articles (at the time of posting, the general opinion seems to be that it is a test, as the comments are not currently up). It’s very “web 2.0” of them to allow user generated content to accompany the work of their journalists; however, the general opinion of the blogosphere seems to be divided about the decision.
Many are lauding the Times for being progressive and opening the conversation between readers and journalists (and it is true that sometimes citizen journalism is the best coverage, because it comes from people who are actually on the scene or witnessed the event), but this move has also garnered some criticism.
Josh Catone of Read Write Web took a moderate view – praising the Times for allowing the comments, but questioning the judgment of placing them in such a prominent position.
“However, giving reader comments such a prominent position is dangerous. Readers of news sites (and blogs) go to those specific destinations to read news in the voice they expect — not to see a public argument from commenters.
I would applaud an expansion of New York Times comments beyond blogs to general news stories — I think commenting is great; it gives readers an outlet for instant response and keeps writers honest. But publishing comments on the main page, especially so prominently under the main story, seems like a bad idea. What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments below (we won’t publish them on the main page, though!).”
I tend to agree with him – partly because if I’m reading a news article on the Times (or any other newspaper, for that matter), I’m looking for the who, the what, the where, the when, the why, and the how – just the facts, please. Obviously, op-eds and such are different in regard to factual reporting, but perhaps the Times commenters shouldn’t be given such a major platform (although I’d assume that the comments that do appear are filtered).
Several commenters on the various blog posts about this move by the Times have mentioned that reader comments shouldn’t have a more visible place than retractions and corrections, which definitely makes sense. After all, others’ reactions are not as important as the actual facts of the piece, generally, and most newspapers tend to bury corrections, even online, where it seems that it would be fairly easy to add them on to the original article. On the Silicon Alley Insider, commenter Brian says:
“When they start giving corrections the same placement and prominence as the story that contained the error, then they will be transparent and conversational. They are still burying corrections at the bottom of the story, in the archive, a day or two after it was originally published. They have a long way to go before they have fully embraced the ethos of the blogosphere.”
Perhaps the people who make such decisions at the Times and other papers are reading all these blog posts, and hopefully learning something from them – and at least they are trying to embrace the new media – even if you believe they are making a mistake with the reader comments, mistakes do happen on the way to innovation.
As always, if you have ideas related to digital media, community journalism, and how the web can improve media and the news delivery system, check out the Knight News Challenge. You’ve only got a few days left to win funding for your ideas!