October 13, 2009

Catching up - Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper finally jumping into online conversation

Whoa. The Cleveland Plain Dealer took a giant step on the Internet today in its attempt to make the conversation at its place more civil. 

"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."
Hip, hip hooray. But what took you so long?

Reading your news organizations web site, or at least comments generated by the stories you write, should be just as natural as picking up the print newspaper and reading the letters to the editor. Knowing what people or organizations you cover are doing online should be as normal as knowing what they do in "real life."

Is there a reporter in the world who would walk away with nary a word to someone who spoke to them at a public meeting or in a public place? Why does it become to OK to ignore what's being said just because it is online.

John Kroll, director of training and digital development for the Advance Publications newspaper in Ohio, tells us he been working to improve the   Plain Dealer's handling of online comments on our stories. He mentions how the Ohio staff plans to follow AnnArbor.com's "We don't tolerate jerks" policy.

Read John's column for more about the policy and encouraging signs that more people involved with the newspaper side of the organization are getting the ways of the Internet.

I wish I could be in the Ohio newsroom the first time a reluctant reporter discovers a story via the comments.

I thought all of the newspapers in the Advance Publications were further along but the recent system wide - system being Newhouse newspapers such as the Syracuse Post-Standard in New York, The Oregonian, Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Birmingham News in Alabama, Grand Rapids Press in Michigan, etc. - upgrade of software that now allows people to develop profiles, recommend stories, and track comments has shown me how few people at these newspapers are online.

It is especially irritating to me that people who carry some responsibility for the online links haven't posted anything about themselves, much less shared a photograph.

Let's hope the rest of the newspapers follow The Plain Dealer's lead and get talking with their villages. Then, perhaps we can teach 'em how to put hotlinks in and with articles.

(By the way, John did a great job yesterday jumping in, collecting comments, and answering many of the concerns that cropped up in the 245 comments posted as of 12:30 a.m. Oct. 13.

He's been jumping in - answering readers' questions by giving specific links, or background information or clarifying a writer's reporting for a few months now. Hip, hip, hooray.)


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