Sunday, November 29, 2015

Quality or Quantity

Will Rhodes

A major reason for reporting the news is to start a conversation.  No matter what the conversation may be about, i.e. taxes, immigration or war, it is never a one-sided.  In order for a conversation to work efficiently there must be more than one person or organization involved.

Reporting the news is only the beginning of our need for debate and conversation.  Everyone has some interest in knowing what's going on and many people have a strong opinion on these events.  But, in order to further the conversation, there must be ways in which we, the readers, can constructively participate. 

According to Tim Ebner, of The American Journalism Review, media outlets across the world strive for this constructive participation.  More times than not, outlets like USA Today will display a section for comments below each of its stories.  This allows for USA's readers to get involved with the issues being reported.  Allowing readers to actively participate in the reporting says a lot about these news outlets and it's awesome.

But, what is not awesome, is that some people take advantage of this privilege.  Some readers decide to use the comment section as a time to "lash out" against the content being reported.  These people write sexist, racist and obscene language in order to further their claims.  Some would say this is an essential part of the conversation but I disagree.

Many times, these commenters add nothing of substance to the conversation, rather they degrade it because they find it amusing to internet 'troll'.  It is great how readers felt comfortable enough to comment, but at the end of the day anonymity allows some people too much comfort when leaving comments.  But it is still important for these news outlets to attract participation from their readers.  One Gannett spokesperson said, "The decision to change our commenting tool was made to provide a welcoming environment that encourages high-quality and relevant contributions".


By 'change of our commenting tool', the speaker was referring to the new system where readers must log in to Facebook in order to post comments, in turn authenticating the user.  USA Today's decision to follow this system caused many people to react negatively, but I couldn't agree with USA's decision more.  People are held accountable when their identity is attached to them and it promotes appropriate, relevant discussion.

USA Today is a serious news outlet.  Serious news outlets don't have the time for and don't need to be associated with the obscenity that has been coming from commenters.  There is no need for news outlets to protect commenters' identities when they individually choose to type their own 'two-cents'.

"User authentication" is a great way to allow the conversation to continue, although people may be weary at first.  It structures the conversation in order to receive the best, most relevant comments, regardless of position on issues. 

The idea is not to regulate opinion, but rather to inspire quality contributions from readers.  The only way to accomplish this is by attaching a profile to each comment, so that people can be responsible for what they say behind a screen.


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