Should Journalists Be Required to Comment? Should Bloggers?

Filed as Features on January 5, 2008 11:11 am

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A year ago, I ran across Micro Persuasions’ Steve Rubel report on “CNET Requires That Journalists Respond to Blog Comments”, an interesting twist on the media conversation.

CNET is mandating that its blogging journalists respond to all reader comments and questions, according to a report in The Guardian. Further, they are also expected to get involved in every debate that “has legs.”

This model is incredibly noble and indicative of where journalism needs to evolve. However, at the same time, it presents a conundrum for public relations professionals and the journalists as well.

I bookmarked the post in my list of things to write about and have been stewing over this all this time. Maybe it’s time I opened up the point to you so you can stew on this, too.

I have to agree with Steve’s perspective that this might be great in theory, but in reality, it’s going to be tough.

Just because a journalist reports information, that information may have been handed to them from a press release. It doesn’t mean they are an expert in the subject, or even know much about the issue.

Many times in the past I’ve had to write up press material and articles based upon subjects I not only didn’t know anything about but on subjects I didn’t want to know anything about. Just because I wrote about it, does it make me an expert? Should it? I was paid to publish the info from the press release, not get a degree on the subject.

Because I report on a specific topic of news about blogging or WordPress, does that make me an expert on the topic? Sure, I’m an expert on blogging and WordPress, but maybe not on the issue at hand.

I believe that we shouldn’t blog about things we now nothing about, but there are times when we blog about things related to what we are experts and know about, but we don’t know everything about the subject, let alone enough to really comment wisely upon it.

I guess it comes down to deciding if you are writing as an expert or just reporting the news.

Andy Merrett recently reported here on the about the First Saudi blogger, Fouad al-Farhan, arrested. Did he comment on the bigger picture? On the social responsibilities that bloggers blogging in countries where freedom of speech is a myth and crime live with? Did he fully research the story and report on other bloggers who’ve been arrested for similar crimes in other countries, and compared al-Farhan’s future with the results of their arrests and convictions?

No. Andy reports on the news for the Blog Herald. He’s wonderful at it. He finds all kinds of brilliant bits and pieces we need to know now about what’s going on in the blogging industry. If he adds a bit or two of personal commentary, that’s okay, but his job is reporting on the news, not to offer opinion and deeper insights.

Should Andy be required to comment on blog posts on the Blog Herald? Should I be required to comment on Andy’s posts? Do his posts need comments? They are news? What’s more to say other than “That’s terrible. Wonder what we can do to help?” or “Thanks for letting us know about this.” Sure, we can start postulating about the issue, but Andy is out getting more news to report on, not monitoring the dialog created by his news announcement.

Yes, it’s critical that we do what we can to help our fellow bloggers, especially those within the team we blog with, like here at the Blog Herald. We can easily break the ice and get the conversation going for each other. Or we can admit that not all posts need comments and get back to the work of producing powerful content for our readers.

On the other hand, should all journalists be required to represent the subject matter for which they write? Maybe. What if we were really held to a higher standard for what we publish. What if we could only publish on subjects we were experts in, prepared to comment and respond to questions? It might change journalism if all journalists were held fully accountable.

I heard on the radio recently that a new company is being formed to report on the news in a new way. I can’t find details about it on the web yet, but the project will assign the time the reporter needs to get the story done. Reporters and journalists will not be working under 10 minute or 48 hour deadlines. There will be no urging to “get the story on the air FIRST” to win the prize. The assignments will be indepth and cover weeks, months, and possibly longer, to tell the whole story, not just reporting on the bits and pieces. It’s an expensive undertaking, but this method will definitely turn the journalists into experts as they research and prepare the story over extended periods of time.

These journalists will have something to contribute to the conversations, don’t you think?

What do you think? Should bloggers working on multiple blogger blogs be required to comment on every blog post published on the blog? And what about journalists? Should they be required to comment?

And what does your comments look like when you are forced to comment on subjects you know little about, nor want to know much about? Doesn’t this change how you comment?

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  1. By Mike Goad posted on January 5, 2008 at 2:28 pm
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    Responding to comments takes times, even to say no more than “thanks.” If a company wants its bloggers or journalists to respond to comments, then they should only be allowed to write about what they are experts in, which is ridiculous.

    How often do you read a story that you know something about where the journalist got it completely right? How often did they get it terribly wrong? I saw stories time and time again on the industry that I retired from where there was information that was stated in a way that made no sense at all or was just flat out wrong. Last night I read an article in a magazine on recreational vehicles that stated in the first paragraph that most RV owners had generators. That was SO wrong, I don’t think this guy ever went camping in his life. I wouldn’t want these guys commenting on their own stories.

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  2. By shawn smith posted on January 5, 2008 at 2:40 pm
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    I would love to see more newspapers and journalists responding to comments and commenting on their own. However, requiring them to do so is defeating the purpose of internet conversation. Web conversation through blogs shouldn’t be forced. Ever been to a cocktail party where you knew no one and your date left you all alone and told you to chat with others? It’s a pain for most of us to do something like that. It’s the same with the web. Forcing conversation will lead to crappy conversation. The key is to get journalists to the point where they understand that they CAN respond and they CAN comment. If they get to the point where they understand they are just like everyone else and can use the web to connect with their readers, then their comments become useful. not before.

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  3. By pelf posted on January 5, 2008 at 3:14 pm
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    On the other hand, should all journalists be required to represent the subject matter for which they write?

    No.

    Because I have dealt with pressmen more than any other grad-student in my university, and I dare say that sometimes journalists don’t even know what they’re writing about.

    I prepare press releases in detail because I know journalists aren’t experts. And we want to make sure that they write the correct thing, so my press release usually contain background information to help the journalist understand more about our turtle work.

    A journalist, however, may comment on our turtle projects after he has visited the project site and listened to our briefing. Otherwise it’s just not fair to both parties.

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  4. By Big Fella posted on January 5, 2008 at 8:26 pm
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    Having some experience hanging around chow.com and chowhound.com, which are a mashup of two Cnet properties, I’ve gotta say, the quality of the content from the paid bloggers on the Chow side of the fence is garbage. Chow was formerly a print medium that died an early death, it was resurrected by Cnet when they acquired chowhound.com they also acquired Chow. They then built a new site, one half of which is the former chowhound.com forums and one half of which is Chow editorial content, including the work of paid bloggers.

    If you compare the blog posts from the paid bloggers on the Chow side, to some of the unpaid forum posts on the Chowhound side, it becomes very obvious that the real writing, the real, knolwedgable content is produced by the “civilians” in the forum community. The content produced by the bloggers on Cnet’s payroll is laughable. But perhaps that is the way Cnet wants it, to not produce quality editorial content, just editorial content that will appeal to the lowest common denominator, largest potention ad audience.

    Of course, maybe Cnet is being really smart, and their directive to their paid bloggers is not such much to engage the readers, but to secretly educate their paid bloggers who would be required to read the readers comments.

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  5. By Kim Kinrade posted on January 5, 2008 at 9:06 pm
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    On the other hand, should all journalists be required to represent the subject matter for which they write?

    No.

    I think it would be like an editor of a newspaper or magazine responding to each letter or post on the “letters to the editor” page. Usually there is a response only if the person writing in is completely wrong about some facts and the editor wants to make sure that the original story is understood by both the one who wrote in and the general public.

    The person writing the comment should have the last word as he or she sees it.

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  6. By Lani Giesen posted on January 5, 2008 at 9:41 pm
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    Reporting the news and blogging the news are two different things. If journalists’ blogs exist solely to report rather than analyse, what is the point of them?

    Journalists who blog under the aegis of their media outlet are lent an authority they would do well to live up to. Any journalist who is blogging about subjects they have no real knowledge of is breaching a trust, in my opinion, or, at best, wasting my time.

    If they do have a particular interest in or understanding of their subject, replying to comments should not be a problem. If they don’t, they should never have been given the blog in the first place.

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  8. By eve posted on January 7, 2008 at 5:59 pm
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    I don’t think anyone should be ‘required’ to do anything, if the reply is forced it will not be genuine, and we will end up with a lot of “good posts” or “I agree” type comments that really contribute nothing.

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  11. By Pete posted on January 20, 2008 at 1:16 pm
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    Very interesting post, my opinion – it’s a good when journalists respond to comments

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  12. By Qurat posted on January 23, 2008 at 12:08 pm
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    I think, journalist response to comments creates more healthy relationship!

    Reply

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  14. By yum cheng posted on June 15, 2009 at 10:17 am
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    It was interesting to read…you have some great information on your blog. Your insight and expertise would be a welcome addition to our community, i hope you will consider joining :-)

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  15. By tanya kochenko posted on June 17, 2009 at 7:00 pm
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    It was interesting to browse trough :-) keep up the good work and thanks for sharing.

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  16. By Catering Miami posted on June 27, 2009 at 10:18 pm
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    I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

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  17. By best binoculars posted on July 17, 2009 at 5:09 am
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    Better than a thousand hollow words, is one word that brings peace.

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