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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Comments on news stories

Fiona Spruill of the New York Times is participating in a Q&A this week on the Times website. A co-worker emailed it to me a few days ago, and I just checked it out. I appreciate her willingness to answer questions (and the Times' willingness to let her), because I'm really interested in what she has to say.

I'm particularly curious about the Times' commenting policy. Seven Days is moving closer to adding reader comments to stories, and I've been thinking about that a lot lately. Like, how are we going to moderate them? Or, more accurately, how am I going to moderate them?

Here's part of Spruill's answer to a question about adding more reader comments:

We have made the decision to pre-screen everything and weed out the tenacious few who might try to derail a conversation with off-topic or abusive comments. (Our moderating guidelines are available here.) Moderating takes time, which is why only a handful of articles have comments right now, but we hope to open up more articles to comments in the near future.

I know we aren't going to pre-screen everything, but I do want to have a system that encourages civility and thoughtful comments, and discourages trolls.

I notice that Spruill mentions the Times is hiring a part-time communty moderator, to help deal with the increase in comments. Unfortunately, that's not an option here... yet.

I also want to point out this comment thread on the Burlington Free Press site. I almost posted about it last week, but I held off, because I wasn't sure what to say about it. I'm still not sure, actually, but I'm putting it out there anyway.

The article it's attached to is the first (I think) of the two that the BFP ran about Shawn Burritt, a  guy from Jericho who was arrested for driving drunk and causing a crash that killed a high school student. It's a tragic story.

I think this comment thread exemplifies some of the best and worst aspects of online discussion.

Within this thread, there are comments from readers who were involved in the accident and knew the people involved. Their comments add a different and — I think — valuable perspective to the news story.

That is, if you believe that they are who they say they are.

There's no way to know for sure, really, since the writers use aliases, and there's no way to contact them.

There are also several inflammatory posts by people who just want to sound off on the story. Some of their comments are insensitive, and don't add anything to the discussion. They probably make more rational readers shy away from commenting.

It feels like this thread needs another layer of moderation, either by a paid moderator, or by the readers. Some way of elevating the useful comments, and downgrading the others.

I don't know if we'll be able to build something like that into our site, but I hope that we can eventually. I think I want to have the option of reading all of the comments, but I want to see the best ones first. Or I want some way of seeing at a glance which are worth reading, and which are worth skipping unless I decide I want to delve deeper.

As you can see, I'm still trying to figure all of this out. Thoughts?

November 29, 2007 at 09:02 AM in Media/Keeping an eye on the competition | Permalink | Comments (9)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Reading Material

I'm still adjusting to life after drupal, which includes a new workflow process around posting stories to our website.

Blah blah blah.

Listen to me talk — can you believe that I used to be a poet?

I haven't been surfing Vermont blogs much lately, though I have been reading some interesting articles that are worth passing along.

The Video Explosion: interesting article for media insiders curious about how newspapers are doing with their video experiments.

The Rebirth of Backpack Journalism: I'm with this guy. I would be a backpack journalist... if I were still a reporter who actually wrote stories.

Christopher Walken mask: I know, it's not an article, but it's funny.

The 12 Most Influential Online Videos of All Time: Via Boing Boing. All Your Base Are Belong To Us!

Cory Doctorow Thinks Facebook Won't Last: Or so he says in this column. I'm not sold, though.

William Langewiesche disses Vermont:  That's my alternative title for this glowing profile of one of my favorite writers. If you don't know his work, you're missing out!

And just for kicks... A review of the book I just finished. It was great! I borrowed it from my local library. Have I mentioned that I recently volunteered for the Winooski library advisory board?

November 27, 2007 at 04:59 PM in House Rules | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

Just wanted to wish everyone a happy day.

I woke up early and actually spent a couple hours working. Not because I had to, just because I thought of something and wanted to get it down before I forgot about it.

Yes, I'm a geek who likes my job. And I'm thankful for that every day.

November 22, 2007 at 07:03 AM in House Rules | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Jeep hits house in Winooski

A woman drove her Jeep Rodeo through the picture window of a house on Mallett's Bay Ave. in Winooski earlier today. I'm posting this because the Free Press has posted some unbelievable photos of this bizarre occurrence. Nice job, Alison Redlich.

Here's the story. More in tomorrow's paper.

It is a little weird that you can purchase these photos (framed copies go for $54.95), but I guess we've all gotta make money somehow, right? Wonder if they'll sell any.

Incidentally, this is just a couple blocks from my house.

November 20, 2007 at 03:50 PM in Media/Keeping an eye on the competition | Permalink | Comments (2)

The Five Ws

Traditionally, the Five Ws refer to "Who, What, When, Where, Why." They're the five questions journalists are supposed to answer when writing a story. There's also an H — "How" — which is important, too.

Now Paul Bradshaw at the Poynter Institute has come up with a new set of questions for journalists in the age of web 2.0:

  • Who can I connect with?
  • What did the journalist read to write this?
  • Where did this happen?
  • When are events coming up that I need to be aware of?
  • Why should I care?
  • How can I make a difference?

You can read his whole post on the list here.

In theory, I think it's great when we can give as much of this information as possible, though as a matter of practical fact, it's difficult to do for every story.

I think Seven Days is doing well, for the most part, with the first two. We're embedding links in stories. We make it easy for readers to get in touch with the people or organizations we write about. And I encourage the writers to send me links to data they find on the web. Last week's article on the 2007 farm bill, for example, contained a number of links to studies and statistics that Ken and Mike cited within the story.

I wonder if it's clear to readers that that's what we're doing? I wonder how I could make it clearer?

I think we also do ok with #4 — we always put relevant date and time info in the sidebars of our stories, or at the end.

We don't do as well with #3, the mapping component, though we do some mapping. Not as much as we'd like yet, but some.

Not sure about #s 5 and 6. I think that comes across in the writing...?

Incidentally, I got this nifty list delivered to my inbox through the Poynter Online E-Media Tidbits list.

November 20, 2007 at 08:22 AM in Media/Keeping an eye on the competition | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


If you check out the Seven Days website today, you'll notice some big changes. My favorite new feature is the flash thingy on the top of the home page called "Top 10."

Our web team basically designed the site. A Drupal programmer built it. I've been tinkering with the content end of it for ages (we imported all of our archives from Typo 3 into Drupal, which was a painful, painful process), and have been working pretty much non-stop for the past month.

Which is why I neglected my poor blog.

Thanks for your patience. Hope you like the site! Let us know what you think, either by commenting on my blog here, or by taking our feedback survey on SurveyMonkey.

We'll have more to show you in a few months or so.

November 14, 2007 at 12:25 PM in House Rules | Permalink | Comments (8)

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Facebook Camp in Montreal

Want to hook up with developers who can make Facebook applications? Check out Facebook Camp in Montreal tomorrow night, Wed. November 7. Dan York posts all the relevant info on his blog, Disruptive Conversations.

I really wanted to go, but am totally swamped, so I'm bagging. But Dan is going, and he's looking for other Vermonters who might be interested.

He sent me an email this morning saying:

The event is 6-10 p.m. but since that means going in Montreal rush hour, I'm thinking it probably makes sense to leave at something like 2 or 3 p.m. and then get some food or something up there before the meeting.

Let him know if you're up for it. Contact info on his blog.

November 6, 2007 at 11:10 AM in VT Blogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 02, 2007

Online Reaction to Discrimination Charge at Montpelier Bike Co-op

Do you ever stumble upon conversations you know you're not really supposed to hear? It happens to me all the time, because part of my job is to find out who's writing about Seven Days online. And that inevitably leads me to obscure websites discussing our stories — and their subjects — in crude and unflattering terms.

This week, News Editor Patrick Ripley wrote a story about a discrimination complaint against a Montpelier bike co-op. FreeRide Montpelier hosts a "Women and Trans night" each week to give women and trans people a safe space where they can learn how to fix their bikes. Men are encouraged to attend workshops on other nights, but boys under 10 are allowed — presumably so their mothers won't have to find childcare for them.

A male FreeRide member complained to Seven Days that this is discriminatory, and we wrote a story about it.

FreeRide's rationale makes sense to me, though I can understand the guy's complaint.

I noticed the story was getting a bunch of hits on the website, so I checked to see who was generating the traffic. Turns out we got a flurry of hits from a post on the Outside Groove message board entitled: What kinda freaks do we have here in Vermont???

Freaks indeed.

I feel like a freak for having to find and read conversations like this.

November 2, 2007 at 08:58 AM in House Rules | Permalink | Comments (9)