A group of citizens meeting on the evening of May 20 in Knoxville over sandwiches and sweet tea might be end up influencing how news sites across the country view and manage comments.
Hyberbole? Maybe. The meeting has become a launching point for discussions about how to manage comments more effectively at the Web sites of the Knoxville News Sentinel as well as at the E.W. Scripps chain of newspapers, which owns the Knoxville newspaper. Its intent is to also spark discussions at news sites across the country and, perhaps, beyond.
The discussion was organized by The Associated Press Managing Editors and the News Sentinel as an “Online Credibility Roundtable” and was funded in part by the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.
Online producer Erin Chapin and Lauren Spuhler have created two videos, which you can see here, that condense the discussion. (The videos have also been posted to YouTube to expand their reach.) We have the complete session available as an audio mp3 file.
We’ve developed some plans and are exploring some other options as a result of the Roundtable. We’ll be talking about those in the coming weeks. From time to time, we’ll post updates on this blog about our steps to improve comments as a result of the Roundtable.
This was the first of a series of Online Credibility Roundtables APME will be holding this year on various issues.
The Knoxville Roundtable participants were:
William S. Rukeyser, magazine industry veteran.
Loida Velazquez, Hispanic community leader.
Bill Shory, WBIR News Director.
Tom McAdams, a Knoxville attorney who defended news site comments in a court hearing.
Deena Christian, whose daughter’s brutal murder has been heavily covered by the media and discussed in comments.
Rusty Coats, head of the Scripps Interactive Newspaper Group.
Mike Arms from the Office of the Knox County Mayor.
Indya Kincannon, Knox County School Board Chair.
Becky Hancock, a community leader critical of Web site comments.
Chuck Jensen, a business owner who is one of the most active commenters on the Knoxnews Web site.
Leroy Thompson, developer and Black community leader.
Randy Neal, pioneering Knoxville blogger who runs the community site, knoxviews.com.
Brittany Fulmer, daughter of former UT head football coach Phil Fulmer.
Bob Benz, COO Radiant Markets, and moderator of the session.
Jack Lail, Director of News Innovation at the News Sentinel.
Jigsha Desai, News Sentinel Online Editor.
Jack McElroy, News Sentinel Editor.
Tom Chester, Director of News Operations for the News Sentinel.
Bruce Hartmann, News Sentinel Publisher .
Elaine Kramer, representing APME.
Also, observing the session was Patrick Beeson, content manager at the Scripps Interactive Newspaper Group.
A media panel I was on recently was asked why newspapers even have comments in a time of dwindling newsroom resources since comments are taking an increasingly larger slice of time for many editors. Why not instead focus more on doing great journalism?
It’s a good question that I didn’t answer well that day. The answer, I think, is that comments ideally create a discussion for the entire community, and newspapers historically have given form to a community, both by defining and shaping it.
But comment areas of news sites aren’t afternoon teas with manners and scones. They sometimes turn mean and hateful, racist and intolerant, and generally nasty.
The discussion at the United Way on May 20 was an attempt to find some possible ways of making comments a true conversation. Some truly good suggestions and insights came out of it.
Here some links to coverage or reaction to the Roundtable.
And here is a link to an online comment reading list. This is what a graphical view looks like of the comments on one of our most commented stories earlier this week using the Wordle.net site. Will Austin, business intelligence manager for the Scripps newspaper Web sites, generated a list of the top 25 commenters on knoxnews and GoVolsXtra.
We invite you to join the continuing conversation in the comment area below.
(The photo by Jack Lail shows Erin Chapin videoing the Roundtable.)