Bloggers vs. Mainstream Media: Reader Feedback
Hotline’s William Beutler reports on a confrontation between WaPo’s Deborah Howell and lefty bloggers Matt Stoler and John Aravosis at the National Press Club over the issue of reader comments on blogs.
Duncan “Atrios” Black notes that he has discovered of late that mainstream journalists are simply unused to dealing with readers.
Even reporters/columnists/etc who prominently display their emails get very little reader feedback. I was quite stunned to realize that the amount of reader feedback most reporters get – even now – is about the amount I was getting after I’d only been running this lemonade stand for a couple of months. Bloggers get a huge amount of feedback relative to their readership size, both in comments and in email, and I was shocked to realize that this wasn’t something most print journalists experienced.
This is indeed an odd thing, presumably just a function of the culture of blogs, where readers come in as equals and expect to participate, versus newspapers, where readers are simply consumers of information passed down from on high. Even though OTB tends not to generate the level of comments as other similarly-trafficked blogs, I still get hundreds of emails every single day. (Every comment posted on the site is instantly emailed to the post author.)
From my own experience, though, I would note that there may be an inverse effect going on, too. On the occasions when I have emailed a reporter from the AP or a major newspaper outlet, I have almost always gotten a response, often very quickly. Conversely, top bloggers tend not to respond unless asked a direct question.
Getting s—loads of nasty feedback when you get something wrong is, actually, “nothing.” It’s just another day as a blogger. I’ve always thought the whole “self correcting blogosphere” nonsense was just that, nonsense. Especially with all the mostly-conservative blogs which don’t have comments public correction requires that they actually, you know, correct themselves. But nonetheless everybody deals with the feedback, and anyone with even a modest amount of traffic deals with quite a lot of it.
Boo hoo. People were mean. Welcome to my world.
Beutler notes that virtually all blogs allow comments but that, among the incredibly high traffic sites, the conservatives are less likely to have comments than the liberals. Still, the “conservatives don’t allow comments” meme is owing entirely to about a half dozen sites.
As has been noted elsewhere, conservative bloggers tend to view their sites as “my house” whereas liberals tend to think of their sites as open forums. Perhaps, for the reasons that make them conservative or liberal, the former may be more offended by foul language or personal attacks than the later.
For the most part, my commenters are reasonably civil and I can police them using automated filters to keep out the spammers. Still, my preference is to keep the comments more-or-less on topic and reasonably civil, so I do occasionally delete offensive comments and have banned a handful (maybe a half dozen in nearly three years) of commenters.
That hasn’t been the case with Michelle Malkin, for example, who quickly ended comments on her site after receiving a substantial number of vitriolic comments. (See here and here, for examples.) Even if those comments are unrepresentative of the thousands of comments she received, I can’t blame her for not wanting to read them. Further, she still provides an email address and trackbacks, so readers and bloggers can certainly let their views on her posts be known.
Jane Hamsher notes the work of Kos Diarist jukeboxgrad in demonstrating that the volume of “hate speech” that the Post received on their site was less than advertised. Still, it is not particularly unreasonable for the Washington Post to have a lower tolerance for juvenile rantings than Eschaton.
Allowing readers to turn comments sections into free-for-alls is in the self interest of bloggers, since it encourages them to come back more often just to participate. Indeed, Eschaton and DailyKos would get more traffic than OTB if they quit providing new content entirely and just had numerous “open thread” posts every day.
But for those interested in a more focused, civil discussion of the issues, a moderated or even comment-free site may be preferable. To each his own. It’s not like there aren’t plenty of sites where trolls can go play.