Head in Hands

Comment is free, adding value is hard

When I was training journalists from one of the biggest media groups in Portugal in the wonders of online media, my favorite strategy to take a break during sessions was to launch debate. And none was so prolific as the discussion about article comments.

The divide was strong, and the general feeling was of frustration: all publications were understaffed, so there were no real comment moderators; most of the comments were nothing but personal disputes between commentators, agressive rants towards journalists, personal opinions on unrelated issues; grammar was a nightmare, the language was fowl; they complained about the usual patrons that tried to pass as experts but were far from it. Hell, they even had poetry posted in the comment box. And it was awful.

So, why have open comment boxes? Most agreed it drove audience numbers up: when one of the group’s websites decided to shut down the comments, visit numbers slumped. The comment box was the poor man’s social network, fed by negativity, stupidity and hatred. Management decided to profit from it by making the feature available again, even though it casted an ugly shadow below the byline. Freedom of speech was also debated.

While I was catching wind for the next bit, I listened to their personal frustrations towards this or that specific commentator. I started this game called “who’s commenting”, in which – with the available data – we would find who they really were. Shock and awe ensued, since the people that were harassing them for months -even years – were not quite what they expected.

Journalists and commentators had little respect for each other.

I said that in a everyway communication environment there are risks, and they should be handled to steer away from damage and into added value. They replied :”How?”

How to find value in the free manifestation of the common citizen, perched on his device delivering his two cents of personal spew, mostly uninformed, irreflected and useless? No wonder we love social networks, those personally crafted echo boxes where we can hide dissent with a click of a button.

This question is raised again in this Journalism.co.uk’s post that starts off with the decision of Reuters shutting down comments throughout their website. And they’re not alone:

Other news organisations have done the same, including the Chicago Sun-Times which described comments as “an embarrassing mishmash of fringe ranting and ill-informed, shrill bomb-throwing”

There are arguments in favor, though:

“It’s a very contentious issue. It’s something people feel very strongly about. My argument is if you have a website at all, why wouldn’t you give people the ability to comment on your content?”

The ecosystem has changed: opinon shifted from comment boxes to social media posts. The engagement arithmetic of links from external blogs or users replies to the articles became derisive. And publishers are no longer in control, either by this new logic or by negligence. Understaffed, remember?

We can never hope all our readers are smart, engaged people. But we shouldn’t dismiss most of them as solitary loons that use the comment feature as a soapbox for their diatribes. Thus, it’s up to publishers, and must be weighed section by section of their websites.

My non biliary two cents on this is if you don’t have a system – and the people to implement it – that doesn’t monitor and reward the best commentators, forget about open comment boxes. They are distracting and useless, and make intelligent readers nauseous.

If you do, allow (restricted) time for the article to be commented on and let the author join the discussion. Many don’t, and they should participate in the same way they write their stories: based on facts and in a impartial, non personal fashion, ignoring the trolls. No fight is worth picking in a comment box.

Get those pesky commentators out of the online anonimity and offer them a tour to your newsroom, enact live forums where they can be face to face with their targets. Make them show up or shut up.

Of course, this last suggestion is a bit idealistic, not to say impossible. But leave your comments below.

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Interactive: Des Moines Register’s game like feature story

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The Des Moines Register recently produced an interactive feature called Harvest of Change. Designed with Oculus Rift in mind, the newspaper partnered with Gannet Digital to “to tell the story of an Iowa farm family using emerging virtual reality technology and 360-degree video.

The first of this five part series makes the user explore the farm to find icons that tell fragments of the story and unlock extras through special objects hidden in the scenario.

It wasn’t a thrilling experience for me, and though they add a 360º video to download, its 1.2 gb are taking too long.

Update: After downloading the file, we can watch a 360º video intro that will lead us to the farm setting and instead of pics  – like we have in the Des Moines Register website – we have videos. The navigation is a bit buggy though, and it sent me back to the intro more than once.

Probably the full series will be worth it, and this is definitely a great effort to bring virtual reality into news games and storytelling. But after unlocking all the photos and going through all the icons I can’t remember the story.

Was I too focused in the goal that somehow forgot to learn? This is a risk with this type of narratives. It must have some sort of challenge to be engaging:

“Games are about decision making, about consequences of actions. And while you are playing, you are picking up facts, pieces of the puzzle, learning tactics, because you have to, and want to, in order to progress to the next level.”

News as games: Immoral or the future of Interactive Journalism?

Maybe we’ll meet the farm boss in part 5. Until then, let’s stroll around and see what we can find.

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Data+Design – Free Ebook

Download this free ebook on how to use Data+Design to tell your stories:

Whether you’re writing an article for your newspaper, showing the results of a campaign, introducing your academic research, illustrating your team’s performance metrics, or shedding light on civic issues, you need to know how to present your data so that other people can understand it.

Regardless of what tools you use to collect data and build visualizations, as an author you need to make decisions around your subjects and datasets in order to tell a good story. And for that, you need to understand key topics in collecting, cleaning, and visualizing data.

This free, Creative Commons-licensed e-book explains important data concepts in simple language. Think of it as an in-depth data FAQ for graphic designers, content producers, and less-technical folks who want some extra help knowing where to begin, and what to watch out for when visualizing information.

Download the ebook

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7 anos a blogar

Faz hoje sete anos anos que comecei um blog, que primeiro era sobre nada, depois era sobre comunicação e acabou por ser sobre jornalismo online.

Estes sete anos foram os mais importantes da minha vida, e tiveram tanto de sucessos como de fracassos e dificuldades.O blog abriu-me portas que de outra forma nunca se abririam e, por outro lado, fechou-me algumas pelas quais também não queria entrar.

Não tenho escrito ultimamente muito sobre o tema que me trouxe até aqui porque estou farto. Não tenho fé nenhuma no panorama jornalístico nacional, nem nas estratégias e objectivos que regem os projectos que por aí andam. Vi e falei de muitos que, na sua maioria, falharam. Outros tiveram algum sucesso, mas quase nenhuns eram revolucionários e eficazes. Alguns que realmente o foram, falharam na mesma.

O jornalismo para mim esgotou-se porque, como bem me lembraram na última entrevista de emprego a que fui, tenho 36 anos e pouca experiência de redacção. Eu também não sou jornalista, sou outra coisa, que não tem espaço nesta lógica.

Tenho trabalhado em Comunicação de Ciência e a dar formação  em comunicação digital, mais virada para o lado empresarial. Aprendi muito nas duas e é isso que gosto de fazer: aprender. Infelizmente, aprender não mete comida na mesa.

Ao fim de sete anos não me arrependo de nada a não ser não me ter ido embora de Portugal de vez.  Mas ainda vou a tempo. Sinto que estou no fim de um ciclo, tanto de objectivos profissionais como pessoais.

Apesar de ter voltado basicamente ao mesmo ponto onde estava há sete anos, apesar dos pesos extra que arrecadei na minha vida, sinto que estou mais rico e melhor. Não em dinheiro, não em qualidade de vida, mas como pessoa e como profissional.

Olhando para o que escrevi ao longo destes anos, acho que não me enganei em relação ao futuro (agora presente), e já nem ligo a certas discussões sobre o tema porque para mim já não fazem sentido: há quem ainda viva em 2007, eu sempre estive mais à frente.

A todos os que me acompanharam ao longo deste percurso e me deram o seu apoio, o meu muito obrigado. Não sei o que se vai passar a seguir mas, como disse Kundera, “o que for, será.”

Vejam a minha página pessoal para contactos, perfis online e CV.

 

 

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Eurosport’s Data World Cup infographic is great

Simple, usable, beautiful. Eurosport’s latest infographic “Data World Cup” correlates which clubs provided more World Cup winners, how far did the Ballon d’Or laureates get in the World Cup (none, which doesn’t bode well for Ronaldo), and other interesting information about the competing teams in Brazil 2014.

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Click to visit the infographic

What I like the most – besides the design – is how so much information is compressed to such a minimalistic presentation. The animations are tasteful, and they bring dynamic.

It is one of those examples that prove how infographics with dynamic design can be better than any other format.

bits, hands and feeds on digital media