16 July 2009

Why Most Newspapers are Dying

This is something that's struck me too:

as is oh-so-typical in these situations, Osnos does nothing at all to engage or respond to the comments that call out his mistakes. You want to know why newspapers are failing? It's not because of Google, it's because of this viewpoint that some journalists still hold that they're the masters of the truth, handing it out from on high, wanting nothing at all to do with the riff raff in the comments.

This is perhaps the biggest single clue that newspaper do not understand how the Internet has changed relationships between writers and readers. Indeed, one of my disappointments with the Guardian's Comment is Free site is that practically *never* do the writers deign to interact with their readers. Given that the Guardian is probably the most Web-savvy of the major newspapers, this does not augur well...

15 comments:

David Gerard said...

When Jack Schofield responds in the comments section, it's often *his* comments that get deleted by the Guardian moderator ...

Charles Arthur participates well, though.

glyn moody said...

Yes, Jack and Charles definitely get it...but then they're techno journalists. It's the Polly Toynbees of this world that don't...

Anonymous said...

I doubt Polly Toynbee knows her articles can receive comments on the website.

I think that like a lot of people these days, I source my news from multiple sites. I read the techdirt and linked article before I got here. When you start doing this you realise exactly how much big media company journalism is simply rewording press releases or taking as verbatim a single biased source.

It does seem like a lot of news companies are barking up the wrong tree.

Here's a clue. If they don't want google indexing their content all they have to do is place a simple text file called robots.txt in the root directory of their website with the contents

User-agent: *
Disallow: /


Job done. Then they can watch their businesses go down the pan free of the annoyance of google linking their copyright content so that people can actually find it.

Getting back to the article referred to by the techdirt piece, I find the idea of complaining that a company lost out by selling an article to AP and then Huffington picking it up on their AP feed so idiotic that I wonder if the author bashed out the piece on a typewriter at home by candlelight and then rushed it in to the paper by horse messenger.

glyn moody said...

good points: thanks.

Julius Beezer said...

I've spent quite a lot of time participating at the Guardian this last six months: I'm juliuzbeezer there.

Guardian articles often attract 200 comments and 1000+ at a peak; there is a simple informational problem at this level of partipation: if you read all the comments, you don't have much time to do much else. Here's a poem I wrote on for a climate change thread there:

488 comments
71,000 words
in
44 hours

sluicing my brain at the firehose
of ignorance

this world offers
so many ways to drown

When journalists wrote for "a paper" it was someone else's (doubtless busy) job to deal with readers' letters. You can't really blame them for carrying the attitude forward into the online world, especially when it's so timeconsuming, and the bilious dross:informative ratio so poor.

I shouldn't be surprised if the old guard retrospectively justify their non-participation with short-cutting snobbery, but there's a very real informational problem underlying it.

David said...

Great piece Glyn - it really resonated with me. I used to rarely responded to comments on my blog for a long time, and then once I became really diligent about it comments doubled/tripled and my readership increased a fair bit.

Still more interesting... people began to write even more intelligently. Sometimes readers tell me they are afraid to comment out of fear of not appearing informed enough (a problem - but better than the inverse). Indeed my favourite moments are when comments are better than the original post. I can imagine how this may feel threatening to the identity of someone being paid to write, get the facts right and generally look smart. But you've got to embrace it - I know my readers (and I) benefit and it pushes me to be better.

Here in Canada I struggle to think of a regular columnist or journalist who responds to comments. As a result the comments often degrade rapidly making it less appealing to writers. Little do they understand that it is in their control - and it is their brand that is being impacted.

Anyway, I talk about some of this in this presentation.

glyn moody said...

@julius: that's a very valid point. I know from my own experience that reading and replying to comments on my pieces takes time. You're right that with hundreds of comments it's worse.

But I still think it's worth the effort - even if only replying to most intelligent comments. If you don't, you're really missing the point - and losing out on the chance to engage in useful dialogue.

glyn moody said...

@David: - thanks for the comment and the link.

You're absolutely right: I find blogging is like many things in life - the more you put in, the more you get. I, too, find that the more I reply, the more great comments I get. And I regard the latter as a really important way for me to test and hone my thoughts. I often hope for really argumentative posts, because it makes me think even harder.

The point about quality is interesting. Another thing that disappoints me about the Comment is Free is that the comments often descend into ad hominem attacks or simple abuse. Picking up on your point, I wonder whether that might partly be the fault of the original writer: if they joined in more, and directed the conversation more, maybe the quality of the thread would improve. Just a thought...

David Gerard said...

Or if they showed signs of thinking about obvious responses when they were writing.

(There's a fine line between that and feeding the trolls, but they're nowhere near it.)

A good example: when Noam Cohen at the New York Times tried claiming that Wikipedia should be giving them money for referencing the NYT! Maurice Jarre was unavailable for comment ... In the comments, we zeroed in on this point, and the silence was deafening. Comments magically closed a few short hours later.

glyn moody said...

Interesting - thanks.

Julius Beezer said...

But I still think it's worth the effort - even if only replying to most intelligent comments. If you don't, you're really missing the point - and losing out on the chance to engage in useful dialogue.

I don't disagree with you: it's much nicer to be here than the Guardian for that very reason. But there comes a point where it doesn't scale, and this is a real unsolved problem.

I pointed out on George Monbiot's recent Guardian thread discussing astroturfing, freeping and other anonymous trollery, everyone is just five minutes from a new disposible email address. I think once the internet discourse can easily filter anonymous cowards from authenticated real people, a lot of these problems will just go away.

Perhaps ironic from a poster called Julius Beezer (it's not my real name) but after many years of stiffnecked online authenticity, I thought I'd have me some of this anonyliberty for a while. Interestingly different, and it's certainly more relaxing this way.

glyn moody said...

@Julius: yes, I hope it's solved too: it would be a shame to lose this opportunity to change the way people interact with news.

Alex Julien said...

@Julius Beezer. You certainly have a point. When you reach a certain level of feedback, be it on a newspaper's site or on your own blog, you need help to deal with it.

Leo Laporte, of TWIT fame, has his sister filtering email for him. Maybe newspapers need to foresee they need a special comment-digesting team to help writers deal with feedback if they want to keep up.

Roger Lancefield said...

Another timely observation Glyn and I think your comments are spot on. This is something that has been irritating (infuriating!) me for quite a while too. Julius Beezer's point is of course valid, but I wholeheartedly agree with your reply. Failure/refusal to engage is not an option. That way the death of an industry lies. If it's really that much of a problem, they'd better find a way to solve it fast. (Although for many it's already far too late.)

The refusal to engage in the comment threads is as telling as not possessing a computer, or an email address. It carries the stench of irrelevance, and, let's face it, of the grave.

glyn moody said...

@Roger: thanks. Unfortunately, I think there is a real problem here, as the Guardian shows. Too often - and too easily - comments descend into the most mindless name-calling and abuse. We probably need more formal comment systems to encourage a somewhat more mature approach - although, equally, we need to keep the ability to comment anonymously for those that *really8 need it. Tricky.