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The 2nd best available training for reporters who want to survive: Engage your audience in the “post comments” section 1/11/08

Posted by Steve Boriss in Comments.

The Old Media have been shielded so heavily for so long from real world business competition, some seem to have forgotten what a customer looks like. Reflecting upon comments left on her blog, NY Times editor Kate Phillips recently pined “I almost wish we could go back to the days when we never heard their voices.” But what is a problem for Ms. Phillips is an opportunity for every reporter who wants to survive the transition to New Media.

Other than starting their own blog, the best training available to today’s journalists is aggressively participating in the “post comments” sections beneath their own articles. If someone finds something in your article that is not true, you’ll have learned for next time a highly valuable methodology common in the blogosphere called “verification-to-avoid-humiliation.” It actually works much better than the standard, mythical “verification” method – the one that many journalists claim exists, but which every journalist does differently (see “The Elements of Journalism” by Kovach and Rosenstiel). And, if someone disagrees with your article because he has a different worldview, you will learn how to engage him in civil debate, keeping a reader in the process, gaining the respect of other readers, and in all ways becoming better prepared for the future of news – a multitude of voices competing in a freewheeling marketplace of ideas. But remember, “the customer is always right!” If the sound of that phrase annoys you, maybe New Media isn’t your thing.


1. Brian Fuller - 1/14/08

Happy New Year, Steve!
Your reference to Phillips’ comment reminded me of a meeting I had before the holidays in New York with a client. Our job was to walk him through various new-media strategies, and he’s been in the PR game for a long time. While he understands the need to move into the future, he said at one point “I wish it were the 1980s again and you built relationships with people by buying them lunch.” Point well taken and it’s not incompatible with today’s environment. But back then, you didn’t have as much (or any) power to make your own news without going through channels.

2. Steve Boriss - 1/14/08

Brian, Exactly. The human touch was nice, but it was just for a few. Now, the many will participate and merit will be more important than who you know and how well you can schmooze them. Not that that will ever completely go away, of course.

3. Brian H - 1/17/08

You’ve obviously never worked in computer systems or programming. Otherwise you’d be a lot more “nuanced” about throwing around that “customer right” adage! Often they have only the vaguest about what they want, why, or how. And are prone to drastic changes of mind mid-stream. Getting a completed product out is often just a race against time before the next one.

In that and any context, the customer may well be always right … about what he wants right now. But ideas and opinions are changeable, some more than others. Agreeing with the opinion du jour to get a sale or enroll a supporter is still pandering by any other term.

Your list of benefits for dialogue is valid, however, and goes both ways. Both reader and author need to be at least somewhat open to modifying their views.

4. Steve Boriss - 1/17/08

Brian, Not that it matters, but for the record my day job is Associate Director of the Center for the Application of Information Technology at Washington U in St. Louis. So, for what it’s worth, I do have that familiarity. The phrase “the customer is always right” obviously cannot be taken too literally. The customer cannot walk into a Mercedes Benz dealership, say a car is worth $10, and drive one off the showroom floor. Instead, it is an attitude that means that customers deserve respect, if there is a disagreement there should be an effort to persuade, and in any event the conversation is civil, with the hope that someday the customer will come back. I think all of us bloggers have site pests, who we’d be just as happy if they never come back, but even then they can be dealt with in a way that might appeal to other readers.

5. Джульета - 5/22/09

Хм… даже такое бывает.

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