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Comment is free. But is it any good?

October 5, 2012

“…the people formerly known as the audience”

Jay Rosen 2006 (blogger), quoted in Citizen Journalism

Jay Rosen’s words sum up the new interactive world of journalism today.  Readers – the audience – of online news are no longer passive consumers of content, but active participants, who debate, criticize and correct journalists’ copy.

This new interactive world has created many issues for journalists.  A recent book about Citizen Journalism has a chapter – by Jane B. Singer and Ian Ashman – that highlights how some Guardian journalists experience User Generated Content .

Some of the journalists interviewed (who are unnamed) said that the ability to give readers a voice was undermining the credibility of  professional journalists. One said that the “platform gives credibility to people whose comments may be completely inaccurate, offensive or without foundation in fact.”  They go on to say that it “arguably undermines the work of professional journalists by placing the words of people who have no training or professional responsibility alongside, or even on a par with, those who do.”

Of particular concern to some journalists are the offensive comments that the Guardian receives online daily, posted by users that – unlike the journalists – can hide behind the cloak of anonymity.  The consensus is that these comments are best ignored, although some said that it was hard not to feel upset by them.

Beyond the inevitable obnoxious comments by trolls, what are the positive aspects of User Generated Content? Journalists said that readers disagreeing with their opinions created the opportunity for  healthy debate and self-reflection.  Another positive aspect mentioned was the challenge made by readers to incorrect facts, which make journalists more careful to get it right first time.

But whatever the usefulness of having incorrect facts challenged and opinions debated, there is still a place for  trained and responsible journalists in this digital world, where everyone can be a citizen journalist. The ability to write compelling, factually correct and credible copy should not be left to just anyone.

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From → Journalism

11 Comments
  1. I agree with the comment that says “opinions created the opportunity for healthy debate and self-reflection.” If they are inaccurate then it’s down to the journalist to defend themselves and their point. If we get rid of comments then we miss out on the opportunity to learn from one another’s opinion, even if we disagree with them.

  2. Thats okay as long as the comments are intelligible, but I guess that is all subjective.

  3. Allowing comments enables the reader to feel involved. It show’s readers are engaged, it allows them to reflect on material consumed, to review, debate and analysis view points put forward. It enables all to learn from each other’s view points, this is ok as long as comments are not offensive. However there should be a line, readers should not be allowed to comment on everything.Allowing readers to be involvement on every level puts them on par with trained professional journalists and undermines the ability of journalists to do their job.

  4. I agree that comments allow readers to feel involved, but much of it seems to be personal abuse by trolls. How you stop these trolls is a difficult one – to filter out the rubbish and allow intelligent comment, thats the ideal. But what is ‘rubbish’ and what is ‘intelligent comment’ can be a matter of opinion.

  5. I’ve just checked out your ‘Trolls’ link. It was hilarious. The problem is comments like those. They do spoil it for the mass who just want to express their view. I don’t think the answer is to stop all comments though The media has just built up a beautiful relationship with it’s audience, it would be nice to keep it going.

    • Yes, those trolls spoil it for the majority (like the school bullies who are really very insecure). I’ve read about some woman journalists stopping their blogs due to the offensive comments they received and I also read about offensive comments made about the son of a well-known male sports presenter. This is topical stuff, as someone was just prosecuted for making offensive comments about the April Jone’s case on Facebook. Apparently police are looking for the social media sites to introduce their own codes, so that the police are not swamped with cases.

      • That would be fantastic if social media intervened a bit more. So people think freedom of speech gives them a right to be malicious and just out right nasty. They should join us in Journalism and the Law, they may not be journalists but they could learn a thing or to about ethical conduct.

  6. Comment definitely encourages involvement from the reader and I think that comment and criticism is the key to successful writing. Yes, perhaps it is an excuse for trolls to victimise unnecessarily but I guess that’s just something we have to prepare for in the world of Journalism anyway. It won’t always be a positive response. You’re right, it would be great to be able to filter out the ‘rubbish’ but to still access the constructive criticism, because I think that’s essential.

    • The question is how you filter out the offensive comments without being accused of censorship. What is offensive to one person may seem harmless to another.

  7. And with the restrictions placed on the media with regards to removing content it does make it harder. Aren’t organisations throwing away their right to qualified privilege if they start removing some offensive material but fail to remove others?

  8. Although removing comments is a form of censorship, there are offensive comments out there that are so obviously personal and rude that they serve no purpose in stimulating further debate. These should be removed by the media organisation. Guidelines about what can be contained in online comments should be adopted by the media to make it clear that personally offensive comments will be removed.

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