A Couple of Interesting Developments at JournalNow

The Winston-Salem Journal's online operation caught my eye a couple of times this past week.  First they integrated Facebook with their comment system in an effort, I assume, to deal with some pretty nasty/terrible anonymous commentors on the site.  I haven't studied it in depth, but the move seems to have helped with the tone of the comments.  Truth be told they couldn't have made the situation any worse so I think it was a good move.

The second thing I noticed was this story on a man who's installed a water capture system at his house.  The story itself was interesting, but what really grabbed my attention was that it was a video.  It was produced by the folks at the Hickory Daily Record, but I could see the W-S Journal doing the same thing with their own reporters.  Seems like a smart move to me – especially with stories that lend themselves to the video format – and now that they've added the ability to share/embed the stories I think they'll be able to really take advantage of their readers' social media activities. (Maybe they've been doing this for a while and I missed it, but either way I think it's a good idea).  Here's embed of the story:

4 thoughts on “A Couple of Interesting Developments at JournalNow

  1. Leatherwing

    Re: the Facebook comments. This is the 3rd comments system that the Journal has used within a 2 year period. Each time they change, you have to relearn which of the comments to ignore (based on brand new user names).
    With Facebook, at least their comments are tied to their actual profile. The downside is that in order to comment on my local paper, I have to (re)join an international online network that makes its money off private data. Might be good for the Journal, but I left Facebook a while back. And earlier this week I removed the Journal’s link from my list of daily destinations for this very reason.
    Side note: when you see your local news anchors asking you to follow them on a social network, that network is probably on its way out.

  2. Jon Lowder

    I see your point about Facebook, but the flip side argument to me is that they are using a network that the paper itself is active on and that a huge chunk of their online readers use.
    To me the most important part of the move to FB for comments is that it removes anonymity. I think being able to tie comments to peoples’ identities prevents them from letting out their “Mr. Hyde” at the community’s expense and without fear of recourse. Even if it’s not a person’s name (there are quite a few legitimate reasons someone may not want to use his name online) but his username/screen name/avatar, at least you can tie comments to that individual in an online community and if he goes to far you can deal with him. I think the Journal’s old comment system did require some sort of registration (please correct me if I’m wrong), but I don’t think that it was enough of a deterrent to the online wackos. If that’s the case then I’d bet a dozen Krispy Kreme’s that it was due to a lack of aggressive moderation by the Journal staff. By going with Facebook they remove much of the moderation burden from the staff because so few people will be comfortable spewing venom under their own names.
    There’s a great post that Anil Dash, someone who knows whereof he speaks on this issue, wrote about this issue on his blog just this week. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the topic: http://dashes.com/anil/2011/07/if-your-websites-full-of-assholes-its-your-fault.html

  3. Leatherwing

    Just read Anil’s post. Good thoughts. Some of it echoes what I said to Ken O. when he was blogging, and asked about comments at the Journal. My comment to him was that the Journal throws open the doors and then leaves. They shouldn’t be surprised when the comments devolve into obnoxious threads. It’s like homeowners having a party and then leaving. They shouldn’t be surprised when some uncivilized guests show up and things get broken.
    I’ve always been surprised that reporters don’t interact in the comments of their stories. That is what I want from an online “interactive” community – some interaction. Joe Killian used to do that over on the Greensboro newspaper (maybe he still does, I haven’t been there recently). If each reporter interacted on their own articles, it would be as if the owners are home, and I think most people would behave better. (I see nothing but civil behavior on your blog and Esbee’s LifeinForsyth blog).
    Personally, I have about three online identities. I’ve been using Leatherwing since 1995. It’s probably my most personal, but I started using it when few used their personal names in online forums. I have a few others that I use on more political sites, and another for technical sites. Facebook has rules against having multiple identities/accounts. But I don’t want to make political comments on a newspaper website that a future employer might object to. I see it as a way of quieting dissenting views as well as obnoxious views. But I’m probably in the minority.
    I did notice that all the comments on the Journal article announcing the new policy were favorable, but now ALL comments come from people with Facebook accounts. :}

  4. Jon Lowder

    Great point about the reporters not engaging.  I dont get it either, but there may be a corporate policy that prevents them from participating.  I know one thing – if people are commenting on my work/stories I want to be there.  BTW, I think Joe is still doing a great job, and he goes a step further by engaging the community on other blogs like Ed Cones.  I also think John Robinson (the NRs editor) should be commended for keeping up his blog and for staying involved online despite the significant heat he catches on a regular basis. Heck, while were at it I have to say that Amanda Lehmert is doing a fine job there too.  I know there are others, but thanks to my work I see Amanda and Joes work more often.  (If you havent seen it yet you should see how Jordan Green of Yes!Weekly is liveblogging/livetweeting the Greensboro city council meetings.  Great use of the medium).
    I used to be a pretty strong advocate of the you should always use your own name in online comments, but the reasoning you just provided is the one that truly caused me to change my mind.  It would be a shame to lose valuable insights provided by people because theyre afraid of losing their livelihood over it.  Our country has a long tradition of anonymous and pseudonymous writers influencing our public policy and culture, and I see no reason why that should be any different online.
    You, and Anil, are absolutely right about the moderation.  Its hard, labor intensive work, but if you want to have anything that approaches an online community you have to do it.


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