How Newspapers Stay Relevant: Comments!

The Boulder Colorado Daily Camera NewspaperI’m about as far into the world of blogging as you can get, with over 170 feeds in my news reader (which as of a week ago is now Google Reader, btw) and three active blogs of my own, but I still read the newspaper. I was reading three papers (albeit online) on a daily basis, but recently stopped reading the New York Times as it felt too redundant with the other two: the local Daily Camera and the Wall Street Journal.
I have quite a few other newsfeeds in my RSS reader, including the BBC and Reuters, but those are the two newspapers that I check every day, along with Google News, a smart news aggregator. Why those? Because I believe that it’s very important to keep up with local, business, and world news.
And yet, aren’t newspapers becoming irrelevant? Well, surprisingly, no. The local paper, the Daily Camera, has figured out the secret to staying relevant and it offers something that no local Boulder Colorado citizen blogger could offer…

What the Daily Camera offers is the blog capability of readers adding their two cents to entries. But it’s not just specific articles, it’s every single article in the paper. This means that any story, from a local sports piece to a movie review to a major news story can — and definitely will — accumulate public input.
Now newspapers have been soliciting reader input for years, but they’ve always been disassociated from the story itself, posted as “letters to the editor” after being carefully hand-picked, and far less interesting for that.
Magazines are worse: I always read the letters section first in any magazine, but the lack of continuity between a story published, say, today and the letters to the editor published two weeks or even a month down the road is a major problem.
Open up every single story to live comments and suddenly you have the vox populi with a bullet, the pro and con, positive and negative, pleasant and unpleasant of the public voice, directly associated with each reported piece.
There’s a disclaimer, of course: “Comments are the sole responsibility of the person posting them. You agree not to post comments that are off topic, defamatory, obscene, abusive, threatening or an invasion of privacy. Violators may be banned.”
Further, comments also include a highly visible “Suggest removal” link.
Here’s an example, from a story about the latest budget overrun for a local transit project, FasTracks: 1.5 billion over budget:

Example of Comments from the newspaper The Daily Camera

The commentors have views that are not represented in the newspaper itself, and they allow readers to get a more fully realized view of the situation, whether it be comments that are terribly disagreeable, or those that are so spot-on that they are shining examples of the very best of citizen media, neatly attached to the story itself.
Sometimes the feedback is less than pleasant, as the following cynical comment attached to a story about hybrid car fuel efficiency demonstrates:

> A hybrid car, as the technology stands today, is a more of “feel good
> about YOURSELF” car than about the environment.


And that explains why they’re so successful here in Boulder… there’s a ready population of people looking for ways to feel better about themselves. There’s a reason Boulder has more therapists per capita than any other town in America.

And, finally, one more, because it’s an amusing example of how the local population are sick of some never-ending stories and are able to express it in a way that the newspaper never could. This one is about yet another update to the inane Ward Churchill situation (he’s the CU professor who lied about his heritage, academic credentials, called the victims of 9/11 “deserving nazis”, and worse):

“Ugh. Someone please stick a fork in this idiot so we don’t have to read about him anymore.”

I think that we in the blogosphere take the back-and-forth of comments for granted, but it’s definitely fresh and exciting on a newspaper site, and it’s frankly wonderful to see the community engage in an ongoing discussion and dialog on the news, be it local, national or global.
Kudos to the Daily Camera team for creating a wonderfully interesting and engaging local news site, one that compels me to go back a few times each day to read the latest comments on the top stories. It’s often enlightening, sometimes disturbing, but always worth reading.
How about your local newspaper? Are they trying to do anything to innovate in the face of the tsunami of local citizen media, and if so, how’s it going?

One comment on “How Newspapers Stay Relevant: Comments!

  1. Hi Dave,
    Don’t have a URL address (other than MySpace) but It seems like everyone is predicting the demise of newspapers. You seem to read papers on-line and not the actual printed version.
    Sure, the demographics will support an upswing in on-line reading and every paper has its own web site.
    I live in NY and take the LIRR railroad to work (275,000 people a day-largest commuter train in the USA) and everyone still has the good old newspaper.
    It’s tactile, easier to flip pages, much better general overview and, I’d guess, it still has a lot more ad revenue than its web counterpart.
    I love newspapers! I hope they don’t go the way of the Edsel Car! Geee, how would it be to drive a car on-line? Not too well.
    I’d like to believe that we can all live with the Web and its mortar & stone counterpart.
    Hmmmm, seems like Dell has even opened up some retail shops…….
    Mike Ward

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