Tuesday, June 21, 2011

New York Times Limits Comment Characters from 5,000 to 2,000*

Yesterday, the New York Times announced that it would limit the number of characters that can be used to write a comment from 5,000 to 2,000. Aron Pilhofer, told The Wrap that:
"We've had one of the highest character limits known to humanity for a long time. We've gotten feedback from readers and frequent commenters, as well as internally, that our character limit is too high, that maybe we should force people to be a little more succinct.

"5,000 [characters] is a lot," he added. "That's not a comment, that's an article."

Later, Pilhofer explains that 5,000 character comments are time consuming to moderate. (The Times has always had some of the best community moderation out there.)

HOWEVER, the headline for The Wrap article says 5,000 words, which is vastly different from 5,000 characters. Now, some may think that 5,000 of *anything* is too high a number, but as to whether 5,000 characters constitutes an article is a tad debatable.

Blog post, maybe. Full-blown article, maybe not.

If Aron Pilhofer could clarify whether it's words or characters, that would be great....because readers may still be a bit confused by The Wrap's headline...

I can, though, empahtize with The Times moderators, who I'm sure have a high volume of comments to moderate and can devote only a certain amount of eyeball time to spend on one comment. It stands to reason that it makes good sense to limit the character count for the moderators benefit, thus decreasing the amount of time spent reviewing and leading to a speedier time in seeing one's post up on The Times' comments boards.

Whether or not 5,000 characters constitutes an article is a matter of opinion. Has anyone ever been given a character count from an editor? Usually, it's word count. Whether it's 2,000 or 5,000 words, both counts usually qualify as a full-lenght article.

So the Wrap's headline confuses on the matter of words and characters...which, coupled with Pilhofer's comment about articles and character count which could make the verbose commenter feel a bit put upon.

But perhaps in a good way...

Here's a couple of suggestions for The Times: would it be possible to make it so that there is an easier way for readers to submit articles? or is that asking too much? Right now, the gatekeeping mechanisms for getting published in the Times are pretty strict. Usually, one can't even get a pitch in without a connection. I'm sure, too, that to institute something like a reader's columns section would cost money, and there'd probably be a lot of disgruntled readers once they receive rejections, but perhaps it's worth a try?

Or maybe just encourage the long commenters to start their own blogs. The Times has, over the years, displayed links back to their articles, which encourages bloggers immensely. Or allow for html code in posts so that commenters could leave links back to full blown comments on their blogs. (to avoid spam links, they could do some sort of CAPTCHA or other automated service for grabbing spam posts.)

Overall, I don't think it's a *bad* thing that The Times is limiting characters in comments. I get it from a moderation perspective, and it makes total sense. However, the Times might want to consider ways to encourage commenters who want to extrapolate to either blog on their own or submit articles. But the Wrap should have been more careful in its headline. There is, after all, a HUGE difference between 5,000 words and 5,000 characters.

And I don't mean 2,000 various personalities who leave comments--who could also be considered "characters" ;)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Local Newspaper Experiments with Crowdsourcing in News Cafe

Can a local paper really get the community involved in the process of creating local news? If you ask John Paton, CEO of the Journal Register Co, the answer might be "yes." Mr. Paton was the keynote speaker at the 10th International Newsroom Summit held last week in Zurich, Switzerland, where he discussed about the company's "news cafe" experiment in Torrington, CT....

In this short recap of the conference, we get little info about the keynote (ok, it's a *short* recap, I know) other than repetition of the axiom (platitude?) "The crowd knows more than we do. . ."

Yadda, yadda, yadda....

I wonder, really, how well the experiment is working, if the "crowd" is really stepping up, and how the newsroom folks are handling the "crowd"....

Crowdsourced journalism isn't an easy thing to do, and the quality of the news can be affected by the quality of the crowd. If the crowd is doing newsgathering, and thus contributing to the news in some way, that would be innovative...but...

One of the biggest problems with doing anything "crowd" is managing said crowd. In order to achieve success, there needs to be good community guidelines and management. The Register Citizen folks held a meeting in December 2010 to discuss comment approval guidelines.
A very good discussion--esp. on the bit of not saying anything bad about businesses--appears in the comments to the post...

So, that's a good start, but I wonder where it went from there?? (any Register Citizen folks, please feel free to leave a comment....)

I also wonder if anyone at the Register Citizen read up on the subject of online community management, and, perhaps, informed the folks at the meeting that there are a great number of resources out there to help them develop suitable guidelines...

We don't need to re-invent the wheel here, folks. There's solid scholarship on online communities. Please, don't leave the public in the dark to fumble around and figure it out for themselves. IMO, there's something both unethical and dishonest when that's done.

As for the project itself, here's the site for The Register Citizen Newsroom Cafe Project, very nicely built on Wordpress.com. There's also a very niceOpenNewsroom Wiki

I am very interested to really know how this project is working out, and may have to take a trip to Torrington, CT to find out....

We'll see...

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Future of Media: Women and Minorities Need Not Apply...

Some of the most important conversations about where media, marketing, and technology are headed are often conducted behind closed doors, at conferences and panel discussions attended by industry insiders who received invitations or could afford to attend. Rarely, if ever, are the conversations or findings from these events reported or published where anyone might read them. As a result, certain attitudes that might perpetuate sexism and raceism might be allowed to continue unchecked and unquestioned....

It has always been part of the mission of this blog to expose and disclose what goes on at some of these hush-hush gatherings. Unfortunately, I missed a good one the other day--one that should have been reported on*: The Future of Media panel presented by the New America Foundation and held at their offices in Washington D.C. The panelists were Steve Coll, President of the NAF; Commissioner Michael Copps of the FCC; and Ted Koppel, Sr News Analyst at NPR.

All old (born sometime in the 1940's) white guys.

Let me note that this is not to say that the NAF deliberately chose not to include a woman and a minority in the discussion. But it does indeed raise the question why, if the recent joint FCC FTC report “Information Needs of Communities: The Changing Media Landscape in a Broadband Age" discusses the need of "diverse voices," that the panel did not include any diverse voices.

There does not seem to be any clear and compelling reason why a woman and minority--two diverse voices-- weren't included. There are many, many non-white, non-guys of the same generation (if we want to talk generations, too) who are as equally august as the gentlemen included here, who would have been great on this panel. They would have had the experience and direct information to answer questions regarding participation of these two diverse groups in the new digital media landscape.

This isn't a lone incidence of something like this: rather, it's endemic to closed-door conversations and many professional conferences. When the conversation about something so important as the future of media is occurring not just behind a closed door, but also among a group that has held sway over it for so long, one might be able to reach the conclusion that the discussions may, perhaps, be held merely as a way to pay lip-service to the changes in order to feel good about the perpetuation of the status quo.

I'd like to be fair to the New America Foundation and its efforts to hold some meaningful dialogue on the FCC's report, but it's awfully hard when it seems so much like the same old same old hush-hush hegemony.

Fortunately,NAF recorded the event. You can find A Conversation on the Future of Media here. Finding the FCC report itself, however, isn't as easy...go figure.

*although it may have been reported on C-Span. yeah, like most people watch that network...

See also: FCC Backs Away from Aiding Media
Less of less: FCC-commissioned report finds a "surprisingly small audience for local news traffic.