ONA Comments Discussion Focuses on the Negative

One of the reasons I like coming to the ONA Conference every year is to meet up with Mark Briggs — one of the true online visionaries out there who always has a positive perspective on the state of the media.

I got a good dose of upbeat Briggs Thursday night.

Friday morning brought the traditional naysayers.

The first official panel today chose to focus on the negatives of online commenting.  Alicia Shepard, the ombudsman for NPR who has come under fire lately, framed the discussion of online comments in a framework that felt a bit dated.  Much of the discussion focused on the negative feedback that reporters and editors for news organizations receive.  At one point last year, Shepard became so upset by the “trolls” that she suggested to NPR honchos that comments on articles should be removed from NPR’s Web site.  Much of her focus was on the criticisms that reporters and editors receive.


Comment boards, both the good and the bad, are a part of the new journalistic world of interactivity.  And, as one person in the audience pointed out on Twitter, it’s a little hard to interact with your audience if you’re automatically casting them in a negative context.

The genie is out of the bottle.

The era of reporters and editors as aloof, “experts” whose stories go unchallenged has come and gone.  The fact that this panel focused so much on this idea that comment boards are bad gave me flashbacks to the early years of Web journalism.  Haven’t we had this discussion already?  Several times?

The bottom line?

Reporters and editors today need a thick skin. Yes, there are critics but as several in the audience pointed out, make the comments work for you!

I remember a few times when I worked at The Washington Post’s web site where I had to tackle a few columnists to prevent them from responding in kind to negative comments on the Web.

If you’re thin-skinned, you’re going to have to adapt.  Eat more ice cream.  Watch the sun rise over the mountains, but don’t cast interactivity in a negative light.  It’s where we are and you need to find ways to engage the audience.

And, let’s move on…


About journalismprof

Steve joined the journalism faculty at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in August 2007 and has been working to incorporate multimedia across the curriculum. Since arriving at UMass, Steve has developed three courses modeled after his multimedia journalism course. The courses allow students to work in teams in a newsroom-like environment where they work on packages -- using video, audio and photos to tell stories. He is also working with students on developing amherstwire.com, a news Web site staffed completely by students. Steve has more than 25 years of experience as an editor and reporter for print and online publications, including 10 as an editor at washingtonpost.com. He also edits part-time for espn.com with the NFL and college football network.
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