Thursday, 24 July 2008

Reputations - more thoughts

Going back to how expectations of local papers are shifting, I found this story from another local's site, the south east London News Shopper, very interesting.

It's a run-of-the-mill story about a car crash - but the comments reveal the driver allegedly tried to flee the scene of the crash, and police found huge amounts of cash when they searched the car. A very different story.

To put it in context, it was linked to in the comments on Hackney blogger Dave Hill's (justified) rant against his local paper, the Hackney Gazette, for failing to credit him as the source of a story. The commenter, thylacosmilus, made the point the comments on the bland story really fleshed it out, and hailed it as example of how new media is coming into its own.

And yes, he's right. But that's not what I find interesting about it - it's the sheer venom directed against the paper for not getting all the details - and getting some details wrong.

The second comment is telling - joe says: "well done lee see they only tell us want they want to." I'm sure that isn't the case, but that doesn't matter - that's the perception, and the way it's phrased suggests it's an opinion long held.

Later comments criticise the paper's research - but also question publishing the story as it is in the first place. This certainly isn't a readership willing to be passively fed their news any more.

Of course, a lot of what is posted there is legally dodgy - certainly the way the commenters have put it. But a careful news editor could certainly take most of the facts from the comments, and make a much better story - and then explain why the comment feature was having to be taken down. But instead, they've published another bare bones follow up -and one commenter has simply posted the whole debate from the previous story underneath!

I don't know much about how the News Shopper works. If it's like its sister title, the South London Guardian, for which I once worked, then the reporters will be short on the ground and work extremely hard. I don't want to knock what they are doing for a moment. The point I want to make is how easy it is to lose your readers' respect when you hand them the means to add to the report themselves - then not act on the information they tell you.

There is still hope here - the commenters are angry the paper itself isn't reporting the true facts. Simply letting it stand in the messageboard isn't enough, so the story itself is seen as having more value than the messages.

So where forward? Do you close your messageboards, as New York news site Gawker suggests, sick to the teeth of the inane "debate" found there (apparently only blogs are allowed that privilege). Or do you bite the bullet and really embrace the massive news resource they offer? It's not a difficult call to make from where I'm standing.

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