Monday, March 27, 2006

Update, on The Union's online comments

Follow-up to Saturday's Speechless post, on The Union editor Pat Butler's column (and its comments)

I called Pat this evening and spoke with him. Should have done this earlier; he sounded like a reasonable human being, didn't hang up on me or bite or snarl or even foam at the mouth, at least not audibly.*

And a Tuesday update - every test comment* that I've submitted in the last few days has been posted on their site. Kudos to those who can still learn new tricks.
(if it lasts)


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Tangent -
Ethics question, feedback from journalist(s) requested:

I had called Pat up to try to arrange a meeting - thus the Q&A that emerged instead was spontaneous, not planned - and it wasn't until after the conversation that I realized that the information that came from it ought to be online - but I'm still grappling with journalistic ethics so could use your feedback: should I have waited to post about it until I got his explicit permission?
- if there are no bombshells, if it's a straight exchange of information, if the individual who became the interviewee is offered free use of the "comment" link to correct any misinformation? (am I really supposed to call him back - waiting until tomorrow, if he's already left for the day - and say "may I post the information you gave me?", or is that overkill?)

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If I do need to call back and get explicit permission, please stop reading here.
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This weekend I'd commented*:
Pat, what are the standards? You mention that incivility isn't tolerated, but obviously that's not the only criterion; please clarify what else you consider to be in "poor taste", so we won't waste our time here.

There was no online reply.* But when I asked via phone, he said that, first, comments that were basically one-to-one communications would not be published, such as "Kady, what happened to my comment?" (?? or "[publisher] hasn't answered my questions; if you have questions for him too, submit them at my blog*"????? - which is not a one-to-one communication, so it seems there's a consistency issue here) - and second, that false statements wouldn't be published: for example, allegations that a particular comment was edited before being put up on the site (he reiterated to me that they do not do this, that it's purely a yea-or-nay decision).

He was sounding reasonable/backtracking on the anti-bloggers sentiment too, said it was not their intent to keep us bloggers from participating(??) (and an "I've posted about this over on my blog _here_" comment from Russ did get published), although I still got the feeling that he finds it painful, to allow outbound links to sites that criticize the paper.

Time to haul Lex Alexander's Working in the Glass House: Newspapers in the Age of Blogs, Grassroots Journalism and Transparency back out again-
we've got three ways we [journalists] can respond [to criticism]. We can get all defensive and arrogant. We can take the kind of absolutely silent approach that comes across as defensive and arrogant. Or we can acknowledge in fact what we always say whenever we're pushing for more liberal open-records laws: We're a public trust. We work for the people. And if we're smart, we're going to work with the people as well, and talk to the people about how we can best do that.

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Postscript:

When you're mistrusted in the community, silence combined with a bad user interface and/or buggy software will have synergistic effects, and not in a good way. I had submitted a test comment last night*, which, despite Pat's swearing up and down that he had given it the thumbs-up, wasn't present ...
...or so I thought - but, looking more carefully, found that once again I'd been hoist by my own logical-fallacy petard - the comments' default display is "show oldest first", and it does; but, it didn't show newest comment (mine) last, but instead buried it in the middle of the pack.

and - were this any paper but The Union, with its past several years of historical baggage - I'd just assume that the burial was due to a bug in their software.

5 comments:

Bruce Levy said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sadie Lou said...

That's cool that you called Pat. I know for a fact that the editors pick and choose what gets published; be it an online comment or a letter to the editor.
I don't care WHAT Pat says on the contrary.
I absolutely think the Union's comment system is the worst I've ever encountered. I hate it. Keep us posted Anna.

Anna said...

I've removed a comment that doesn't meet the criteria for civility; I hope the commenter will reword and resubmit it (if I knew your email address, I'd send it back to you so you'd have the original to work with - drop me a line, my username's ncfocus2003, domain is yahoo.com )

re civil comments - a civil comment is one that doesn't stoop to name-calling, and doesn't sound like it came from Rush Limbaugh's enantiomer.

Best is if it quietly and calmly presents the data, letting the readers draw their own conclusions.

I'm happy to see you here and commenting, but the tone does matter.

(once again, Ed Cone's classic Don't Talk While I'm Interrupting )

(sorry for the holier-than-thou tone here; trust me, I've been a lot less holy than thou in the past - but now I make up in enthusiasm for what I lacked in aptitude)

Anna said...

> "I know for a fact that the editors pick and choose..."

Sadie, I'm probably going to say this wrong and rile you, and then the stones will fly - but:
Your knowing for a fact is fine on your blog, but over here what I want to see is the evidence that you've drawn this conclusion from. The date you submitted your piece, the date it was published (if it was)...
or whatever. The data, not just your conclusions.

I do agree with you that the comment system is bad - but it seems that all the newspapers in the Swift chain use the same one, so it's not fair to single The Union out for criticism there.

Anna said...

Also, Sadie -

> "That's cool that you called Pat..."

I figured if I'm brave enough to face you,* I can face anybody.
:-)