Amy Alkon says that the new Readers’ Representative blog at the L.A. Times has a “faux comments section.”
I’m starting to agree.
What kind of a blog publishes only a few of the comments submitted to it? And what sort of blog deep-sixes almost all the critical comments submitted to it?
The Readers’ Representative blog has a comments section — in theory. But the Readers’ Rep says that only comments that “touch on topics of wide interest or raise new aspects of the conversation” will be posted.
What sort of comments “touch on topics of wide interest or raise new aspects of the conversation,” in the estimation of the Readers’ Rep?
Well, based on the comments published so far, if you praise the newspaper, your comment has a good chance of being published. If you have criticism — not so much. Your comment will likely be rejected — although you will receive a nice e-mail from the Readers’ Representative.
So far, the blog has been up for four days. It currently has eight posts, and eight comments have been approved. Only one of them is negative or critical. In the extended entry, I list all of them. Five of the comments are positive, one is neutral, one is negative, and one is the Readers’ Representative’s response to the negative one.
I am also aware of three [UPDATE: four!] other critical comments that have been submitted — that were not published. One of them was mine:
So, you will publish only comments that, according to your view, “touch on topics of wide interest or raise new aspects of the conversation.” Other comments will not be posted.
This is much less of a “conversation” than I had hoped. What about comments that talk about Tim Rutten’s abuse of the policy on anonymous sources? Will those make it past the gatekeeper?
What about Tim Rutten’s claim that The New Republic admitted that Scott Beauchamp “concocted” an aspect of his story — when The New Republic admitted only an error? I had hoped that part of the “conversation” could be about whether the Readers’ Representative sees “concocting” a story as equivalent to errors. Will comments raising that issue make it past the gatekeeper?
You can run your blog the way you like, of course. But if you really want a “conversation,” allowing a free flow of comments is much better than tight control. In my opinion.
That comment was not published. Instead, Jamie Gold sent me an e-mail, which said, in part: “This forum for the most part won’t be for allegations of error, which are handled as requests for correction.”
They’re not ignoring the negative comments. They just (with one exception) aren’t publishing them.
So far, this is not a “conversation,” as Jamie Gold characterizes it. Rather, it appears to be a “faux comments section,” as Amy Alkon describes it.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like this in over five years of reading blogs.
All comments referenced in this post are set forth in the extended entry in their entirety.
A positive one from MC:
I think this is a great idea to have a public exchange of perspectives between the readers and the journalists. Your readers will learn more and feel like they are better shaping the reporting based on an assumption that feedback is enlightening.
A positive one from Foxfier:
I hope that this blog will be used to encourage conversation, as well as giving a new route for writers to get information– the interview comes to you!
A positive one from Kent Mollohan, Helena, MT:
I encourage you to keep this kind of communication going, i.e., a site where facts can be checked and published. I’ve sent a question to the Pew Charitable Trusts, too, asking about which agencies and national, regional and state polls can be a trusted source of credible questioning and “truth.” Somewhere in the near future, I suspect we’ll be able to bookmark the ten or twenty Internet sites for “truth” and I hope networking among them to see that Americans and wannabes get the best information. Good fortune on your venture: the L.A. Times is still one of the top sources I use periodically to check on things, particularly immigration issues.
A positive one from Darrin Knox about one of the paper’s photographs:
I hope that the Los Angeles Times does whatever is necessary to promote Karen Tapia-Andersen to be nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for this amazing piece of photojournalism.
A positive one from Rick E. Lebel, Palm Desert about the same photograph:
I was at one time the ranking fire chief for the City of Ontario Fire Department in California and served as the second-in-command for many many years. The photo of the firefighters on the ridge by Karen Tapia-Andersen is truly an iconic image. My son, also a firefighter with CAL FIRE, noted that it is a similar image as the firefighters raising the flag in sight of the steel cross at the World Trade Center disaster of 9/11…
It is a remarkable photograph. Additionally, the comments by the photographer Karen Tapia-Andersen on the Brian Williams segment of NBC News, that she was praying for the safety of the firefighters, brought chills up my arms and tears to my eyes. The sensitivity of this “lady” while taking an award-winning image, is in itself a Pulitzer story, as is the picture she shot!
A neutral one from TCO about the meaning of the phrase “he said” in referring to an e-mail:
“Wrote” seems more accurate than “said” when referring to an e-mail. But e-mailed is best of all.
And one negative one, from JD:
This is a good start. However, if past history is any example, the accuracy issues will dominate this blog. Hopefully, a public airing of some of the more egregious examples of blatant partisanship, and outright fabrications will encourage the writers to be a touch more accurate in the future. One can only hope.
And a response to JD from the Readers’ Rep:
Jamie Gold, readers’ representative, responds to JD:
This is similar to other comments sometimes received in the readers’ representative office. When readers send general notes like this, we write back seeking specifics, in hopes of learning where readers see bias or error — or more egregiously in this comment, outright fabrication. In this case, I sent this reader a note and have not received a response to his general allegations. It’s important for The Times to know where readers see what they consider to be bias or errors. Corrections appear on Page A2 and in the online corrections space daily.
The problem is, if you write with specifics, the comment doesn’t get published. I did, and my comment wasn’t published. [UPDATE: So did JD, as it turns out. See UPDATE x2 below.]
Here are a couple more comments (besides mine) that haven’t been published, but that readers have republished in e-mails to me, and/or in comments on this blog.
From reader Sue:
I agree with you completely. An exchange of perspectives between the readers and the paper may indeed shape reporting due to enlightened feedback. Your post of November 27, 2007 @ 7:30 pm is right on. How is that avenue proceeding?
This one doesn’t sound that negative on its face — but I classify it as negative because of its praise for JD’s negative comment. (The reference to the “post of November 27, 2007 @ 7:30 pm” is a reference to JD’s negative comment — the only negative comment published so far.) Sue got an e-mail from the Readers’ Representative in response, but her comment was not published.
From reader nk:
I thought a recent story about retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’connor’s husband, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s, having a “romantic attachment” with a female patient in the facility he is in, was in very bad taste. Frankly, below the standards of supermarket tabloids.
nk got an e-mail from the Readers’ Rep, but his comment wasn’t published.
And, of course, there’s mine, published in the post above — which, like these others, got me a personalized e-mail response . . . but no publication.
I continue to encourage readers here to go leave polite, pointed criticism on the initial blog post of the Readers’ Rep blog. Save your comment, and if it isn’t published, leave it in a comment or e-mail it to me. I’ll publish it.
UPDATE: Here’s another unpublished comment from redc1c4:
when, if ever, is the Times planning on covering the positive news coming out of Iraq these days with something approaching the enthusiasm it’s given to the negative stories of the last few years?
a quick look at the main web page this evening (28NOV07) only shows two mentions of Iraq, one of which is an “opinion piece” by Rosa Brooks, who (predictably) downplays the good, and hints that if there is any, it won’t last. that may play as “balanced” in the news room, but it doesn’t fly out here in the real world, especially if you define that as “other than here in LA”.
the only other mention of Iraq that i see is in an AP story all the way at the bottom of the main page, and it too is written in the “well, there’s some possibly good news here and there, but look at all this bad stuff” style we’ve come to expect from AP, when they aren’t handing out fauxtography as news.
just for amusement, i checked to see how the Times had covered a story about Fallujah’s first sewer plant i recently read about on line. when you type “fallujah sewer plant” in Google, you get at least two pages of links to web sites where the news about this has been posted. when you do an Times search on the same criteria, the result is zip, zero, nada, zilch. no articles, no venues, no events, no photos…… just a repeated admonition that i should “Try broadening your search criteria.” so i typed in just “fallujah” to follow that advice.
at least this time i got 5 photos: 1 from 2007 showing the SecDef & the CJCOS meeting at Camp Fallujah. the other 4 were from November 2004 showing Marines prepping to retake the town. nothing else…….
i tried looking for MNF-I or Multinational Force Iraq, to see if maybe it was hidden away there, but was directed back to your preferred header “The Conflict in Iraq”.
one guess what the general gist and meme of *those* story lines was….
besides predictable, of course. maybe you should cut a deal with Michael Yon: he seems to be able to travel to parts of Iraq that other reporters don’t (anywhere outside the Green Zone) and gets well written researched and documented stories. it would at least give you the appearance of balance.
speaking of which, what’s with the tone of the November 23rd article about the Soldier who was sent the letters about repaying his bonus? why not do an in depth story on the DFAS Wounded Warrior Pay Management Program, which was established to reduce/prevent this sort of thing from happening. a quick call to any military PAO would have gotten you access to the *real* story. anyone who’s ever served in the military expects the occasional screwup (it’s like working for a big company). that’s all this was.
you could have published an upbeat story and given other GI’s contact points if they ran into similar screw ups. that you chose not to cover it that way either means that your reporters couldn’t/wouldn’t follow up on a story, or that your editorial stance decreed that the message was more important than the underlying facts. neither option speaks well of the participants, but in this day and age, the ability of such efforts to cover up the reality of matters grows weaker every day. you are competitors in the marketplace of ideas, and that of messages. the ongoing downtrend in circulation continues to this day. that no one in charge there in the Times building or at your corporate HQ can figure out why this is happening doesn’t speak well towards your long term survival as a business entity.
I’ll keep adding them as they come in.
UPDATE x2: JD writes to tell me that, contrary to the comment left by the Readers’ Rep, he did in fact write back immediately (44 minutes after receiving her e-mail) to give several very specific instances of the paper’s Tim Rutten getting facts egregiously wrong. JD says his e-mail was sent Wednesday, November 28, 2007 at 12:14 AM, yet Jamie Gold’s comment, time-stamped November 29 at 12:19 p.m. (over 36 hours later), says that JD hadn’t responded. I have asked JD to re-send his e-mail and to leave it as a comment, so that Ms. Gold’s inaccurate comment can be corrected on the issue of JD’s supposed lack of response.