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« Newspapers, Sensibility and Worldview | Main | CombattingNon-Transparent PR with Grassroots Energy »

February 04, 2005


Terry Heaton

In Greensboro, the News & Record's Letters to the Editor are available in blog format. I think this is huge.

John Robinson

Yes, we just started the letters in blog format at the N&R, and they've already taken off. (They are also getting some questions and concerns by newspaper letter writers who don't want their letters to be interactive because they don't have computers and can't read what others are saying.) The editorial page editor and an editorial writer also just introduced their blogs. I like your other suggestions, Dan. It's an interesting time we're in.

Carmi Levy

Wonderfully put, Dan. I'm sorry I wasn't able to attend your actual talk, but am thankful that you took the time to outline it here for us.

When I was just a kid, I remember thinking how magical the newspaper was. It blew me away that I could send in a letter to the editor, and they might even publish it. When my first one was printed, I must have floated for a week.

It is that dialog-based interaction with its community that, in my view, separates the good papers from the great ones. The ones that get it use creative processes to involve their constituents on a number of levels. It ultimately has very little to do with cost, and significantly more to do with how deeply the paper's leaders - both editorial and business - feel about turning a conservative business (as most papers seem to have become) into a true agent of change in the community.

I hope we all continue to watch this issue with great curiosity and involvement. The very future of the medium is being shaped within the lines of this discussion.

Carmi Levy


Fascinating...but it assumes that public service, not influencing the public, is the paper's main goal. What will happen when an editor gets asked to defend an editorial he wrote but didn't believe in?

e.g. from here:
"It's the publisher's role to make the final calls on our editorial policy. It's my job to execute it.
I'm capable, if called upon, to write in the institutional voice, making the case as strongly as I can..."

Susan Kitchens


You gave the talk, gave some recommendations. All good. But I was hoping for more than a blog-rehash of your talking points (however meritorious). How was it received? What was the response? Tell!


but what's the payment plan dan? do the readers get some? What do they get for adding value to a commercial enterprise? or do they 'pay to play'?


One of my major peeves with newspapers is their insistence on a "real" name for any published comments. This is completely foolish.

In this day of easy searching, I am not going to tie my views to my real identity. One never knows when a boss (potential or current) or HR dept. might choose to Google someone as part of a background check before offering employment. Or perhaps I have desires to run for political office. Wouldn't want potential voters or the competition to know all about my fetishes or even what I might find humorous.

Your proposals will never work unless & until newspapers are willing to accept pseudonym ID's for participation in the newspaper.

Jay Rosen

Very apt suggestions, Dan. Taken together, they are a formula for dramatic change. I too would love to know how the editors reacted, and also how it was different for you, speaking to Knight-Ridder people from outside the company, and, at least to some extent, as a competitor in journalism.

Editorial pages are a good place to implement a suggestion I gave to the News & Record in Greensboro:

You want to be the public square, News-Record? Then keep a running list on the front of your site with the twelve most important, vital, involving and humanly real stories in the Greensboro area, and if some of them are problems that remain on the list for years, so be it. The Big 12 in GSO. Move one off when it's decided or solved or it fades. Change it weekly. Change it monthly. Make it six instead of twelve. It doesn't matter how you do it, what you call it. All that matters is that your list be "live," capable of changing on a dime or not changing for years-- and of course, it has to be accurate. How's it going to be accurate? Only if your site is two-way. Only if you're in touch. Only if you're good.


Speaking of where to start the conversation,, The Morning Call’s web site in Allentown, PA., stepped up that interaction a couple of months ago by adding a Comment on this Article widget at the bottom of most stories.

Last month we put up a list of the five most recently commented upon articles, updated every 10 minutes, and created a page we call Today's Buzz that lists the 10 most emailed content items, the 5 most recently commented upon stories and the 5 most commented upon stories. These are all available from the home page.

User participation is strong – this is an addictive feature that also appears to be driving up overall story traffic. The most recent comments provide a real-time sense of what is resonating with the community, and it’s not always the home page stories. Letters to the editor and op-ed pieces generate a lot of posts, much of it thoughtful, though there are the unfortunate name-callings and rants. How we deal with these is our current quandary. I can toss the TOS at offensive posters and even ban them, but there also seems to be self-moderating dynamic at work among the posters that I’m hopeful will act as the ultimate arbiter and keep people from crossing the line. The danger with these features is that a couple of people can make the experience pretty unpleasant for everyone else.

While we have yet to ask readers for story ideas, we have requested they send us news photos. When a gas pipeline exploded in our core circulation area last week we were able to create a gallery hours before staff photographers posted their photos. The user gallery got almost 50,000 page views, about two-thirds of the staff gallery.

Blogs are next on the agenda – we’ve rolled them out for special events but plan to make them a regular feature within the next couple of months.


I keep wanting some reality check on all of this. Newspapers, with a very few exceptions, do not exist for the benefit of the public interest. They are a business, and they stay in business by making a profit from advertising or subscription fees. That's why we have happytalk TV news and uncritical articles in the sells to a largely undiscriminating audience.

The idea that the media (regardless of whether they are broadcast or print or online) have a duty to the public is a charming anachronism, as evidenced by the spinelessness and obtuseness of the reporters and the prejudices of editorial and content managers. Until supporters of blogging...a small, albeit vocal, subculture...contribute financially to the press, it's probably unrealistic to expect more than lip service from the journalistic establishment.

When ethical behavior, truth and critical thinking are as profitable as entertainment, PR spinning and public scandalmongering, then we might see some improvement. Until then, we'll get superficial or biased coverage of abominations like the Social Security plan, regressive civil rights protection, digital rights management, defense of marriage and a host of other early-20th century initiatives that have been reborn in the current climate.


there are the unfortunate name-callings and rants. How we deal with these is our current quandary.

Russell, you are not alone.

Handy tips: Teresa Nielsen Hayden's rules of thumb for Moderating Conversations in Virtual Space*
(she recommends disemvowelling comments by trolls; tool here)

Longer, also excellent: Clay Shirky's Group as User: Flaming and the Design of Social Software

* If TNH's rules aren't reachable, try here.

Victor Abellón

I wish this 'Blogs War' is finished. I think there's is space for everyone.


Some real evidence as to why it isn't a good idea to identify yourself online - you might get fired over what you consider to be your right of "free speech".



I think grasst0s very dificult to convince the presidents s


I am working for a publisher of weekly communtiy papers. I think grassroot journalism is the future of the local media. I like to start local sites combined with a blog. My supiriors are not convinced of the idea. The difficultie to start it for my self is that I need the power of the printed version to get the right attention to the site and the blog. Any ideas?

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