It’s one thing to be late to the party.
But when you finally do show up, and act as though you’re the first one to arrive, well…that may not go over so well.
As an advocate for user comments on news sites I was pleased to read that the Cleveland Plain Dealer is getting proactive and plans to engage with the people who take the time to comment on their news stories.

But the tone in which it was delivered in this post on Cleveland.com made me want to laugh.
The newspaper is acting as though it is doing users a huge favor. To paraphrase, it sounds to me like: “Yeah, we’ve ignored you long enough mostly because we found your input lacking and unworthy so guess what? We are now going to grace you with our presence and actually let our reporters talk to you. Did you hear that, peasant?”

Here is the actual verbiage:

But we’re also doing something we should have done earlier: We’re joining the online conversation. For too long, we at The Plain Dealer posted stories on cleveland.com and then turned away to focus on the next day’s news. Now, we’re encouraging our reporters and editors to pay attention to what you’re saying, to answer your questions and respond to your complaints.

Well, isn’t that nice? You’re going to provide customer service to your customers.

Why am I being hard on them about this? Because I know firsthand how difficult it is to deal with comments on news stories, particularly those that are anonymous and there is no real accountability for actions. I hire, train and supervise a team of moderators for the top local news website in a large market with an insane amount of traffic and user comments.
And we answer their questions and respond to their complaints.

We are in the conversation age and this is what it takes. Period.
I worked at a newspaper for six years and I know all too well the attitudes toward the consumer and their opinions that were once edited but are now everywhere. The loss of control and more importantly, the role of gatekeeper has been paralyzing for many news organizations. (If you want to read some great posts about this phenomenon, read Mark Potts’ Recovering Journalist and Jeff Jarvis’ Buzzmachine.)

You’re not fabulous because you finally decide to talk to your customers online in the year 2009. You’re simply doing the right thing.

The paper has also indicated in the post that this engagement is an experiment. If it goes well, they will continue. I hope they put the resources needed behind it to help it along the way. And though the tone of this post is sarcastic, I do wish them luck.

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