A quick link to Mark Trahant’s column in the Sunday Seattle P-I: “Journalism as interactive medium.”
Mark writes about the P-I’s experiment of attaching online polls to nearly every editorial (but curiously, not this one.) Their goal is a noble one, to make journalism more interactive by easily facilitating reader feedback. But you all know my opinion about these stupid, lame-ass, online polls: they’re, um… stupid, and uh… lame-ass.
Online polls are too often leading, and too easily manipulated by OCD-like freepers, who would rather create the illusion that the people agree with them, than go through the actual effort of persuasion. Online polls also are not particularly all that interactive.
But how does journalism — especially opinion journalism — feel the pulse of what’s important to our readers? How do we measure and share those concerns with other readers? How can we contribute to a community’s conversation about itself, reflecting the concerns that people tell one another?
Um… why not attach a comment section to every editorial (or even every article for that matter) essentially turning the online version of the P-I into an uber-blog? Many real journalists are rightly concerned about the growing influence of us bloggers. So why not beat us at our own game?
See, I’ll let you in on a little secret, Mark. It’s not content that drives blogs… it’s community. Oh sure, content is important, and I’m gratified that so many people stop by to read me on a daily basis. But let’s be honest, my most engaged readers aren’t checking in a dozen times a day just in case there’s a fresh post. They’re itching to read the latest comments on their comments on other people’s comments, and so on.
Trust me Mark, you’re readers are just dying to share their comments with you — so much so, that for want of the opportunity, they’re going to leave their comments here on HA, by proxy. You say only 277 people responded to a recent poll, and yes, I understand you didn’t promote it. But HA has a tiny, tiny fraction of your daily readership, and yet three out of my last four posts have generated triple-digit comments. These people didn’t just push a few buttons… they took the time to thoughtfully put their opinions into words. (Well… some of them.) Now that’s interaction.
This brave new world of open-source journalism is a scary place Mark, but if traditional journalists like you don’t start to embrace it, it will pass you by. Do you really want public opinion to be shaped by propagandists like me and Stefan? I sure don’t.
So please… no more baby steps. It’s time for the P-I to jump right in and open a comment thread on every article and editorial you publish. Be bold. Be creative.
You’ve got to stop thinking of your website as the online version of the P-I. Your website is the P-I… and that thing the Times prints for you every day? That’s the paper version.
Make that paradigm shift, and you may even have a chance of surviving in a post-JOA world.