Blogversation 3 and The D&C's New Site

Ontario GOP and Exile at Rochesterturning have posted their responses in our continuing blogversation, and Evan Dawson has begun the third part with a lengthy post here.    There's a lot to digest from Evan, and I'll get to that in a later post, but first I want to mention that the D&C has redesigned their site.  Those of you who are interested in my take on it, and how it relates to Joe Klein of all people, can read on after the break.  Anyone tired of watching me mount the D&C hobbyhorse can go read GOP's, Exile and Evan's posts instead.
Site design is a matter of taste and I think the D&C's is a bit of an improvement on their old design to my eye.  It's way, way too much information on a page, and it falls all over itself pimping other Gannett properties, but that's consistent with most newspaper sites. 

What's more significant is that they've junked their old "storychat" comment system, and replaced it with a new system powered by Pluck.  In addition to allowing comments, Pluck gives the D&C some social networking capabilities. Users can maintain profiles, host their own blogs, and call other users "friends".   Pluck looks like a great piece of technology, but it doesn't address the real issue with the D&C's comments section:  they're full of trolls and morons.

Here's an example from today's edition.  As one of the commenters asks, "I am curious how this went from a discussion about an article reporting an alleged crime to name calling and insults and insinuations."   Meet the new D&C forums, same as the old ones.

An Internet forum is governed by laws similar to thermodynamics:  absent any other energy, it moves towards maximum entropy.  The energy that's missing from the D&C's forums is intelligent moderation and participation by D&C editorial staff. If the D&C staff took the time to engage commenters, perhaps accepting corrections or amplifying a point, I think the tone and content of their forums would improve markedly.  Right now, nobody's listening at the D&C forums.  So the participants who like to shout are shouting louder, and thoughtful people who pose intelligent questions go away after nobody answers.

The D&C might think this policy is just OK and what a "real newspaper" ought to do, but I want to point to a "serious journalist" who tried the "I don't have to deal with this" tactic and didn't fare so well.  Time's Joe Klein was absolutely savaged last year by Glenn Greenwald.  Unwilling to concede that he made a basic mistake in reporting, Klein was pushed into saying that he didn't "have time" to figure out who was telling the truth about a relatively simple factual matter.

Klein took a lot of heat from the journalism community for that, and I think the lesson hit home (a little).  Now, instead of ignoring commenters and behaving defensively, he's adopted a little common courtesy.  Here are two examples from this week.  First, in a post on IAEA, he updates twice based on comments, taking a correction gracefully and answering a question.  He says something dumb in public and immediately apologizes, without being prompted. Incidentally, on the same Time blog, Ana Marie Cox takes a "terrific" question from a commenter and asks it at a Clinton press call.   Time is by no means a leader on the Internet, but even they are learning how a conversation between reporters and commenters on their blogs can build community.

In contrast, the D&C blogs remain a walled garden.  They still don't have RSS feeds, and the comments are managed using Blogger, not Pluck, so all of the commenters on blogs are part of a completely different online community. This leads to the following absurdity:  I can create a blog with a D&C address that accepts Pluck comments and has a RSS feed, but the D&C editors can't. 


I have been associated with newspapers since 1976. With few exceptions, editors have always thought that style and not substance will gain readers or viewers or bloggers. It is the nature of the beast. Thankfully, the guy that edits our paper now is into style and substance in equal doses.