If you're part of a news story you should be treated differently

without comments

Why don’t news websites reserve a separate space for participants in the story?

It seems very strange that while most news websites now allow people to comment below their stories – they don’t provide any space or special treatment for the people and organisations referred to in the story.

Surely they’re missing a trick? A story feels much more authentic and ‘live’ if, having been published, it re-engages the people involved.

But if the partipant makes a comment it’s almost always mixed in with 30 or so others. This not only makes it seem less interesting, but less credible. You can’t help but think, is this really the person in the article? Would the paper have left their comment languishing down here if it was?

This struck me recently when Dr Fiona Scott, one of two critical sources referenced in the Observer’s front page piece about MMR and autism, left a comment beneath Stephen Pritchard’s column the following week. But since hers was the 19th comment (of 44) it was difficult to find and hard to know whether to take seriously – despite being so integral to the story, and despite the importance of the comment to the overall credibility of the original piece.

Similarly last week, in an internet debate hosted by Newsnight about the MoD’s new guidelines preventing the armed forces from publishing blogs, pictures and videos online, I came across the MoD’s spokesman’s comments nestling amongst 78 others.

Though this might please the democratic purists among us, it reduces the richness of the story and doesn’t help the reader at all.

Neither would giving the participants special treatment require news organisations to make a massive change from current practice. They could just add a separate email / phone number, and then highlight their responses or link to them directly from the article.

If Google, an organisation which extolls its lack of editorial staff, can give participants the chance to respond to news stories (see their announcement last week), then news organisations can certainly do this, and more.

Written by Martin Moore

August 16th, 2007 at 8:16 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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