Guardian community moderator Todd Nash* makes an interesting suggestion on his blog about the difficulties journalists face in wading through comments on their stories:
“there is potential for news stories to come out of user activity on newspaper websites. Yet, as far as I know, it is not a particularly well-utlised area. Time is clearly an issue here. How many journalists have time to scroll through all of their comments to search for something that could well resemble a needle in a haystack? It was commented that, ironically, freelancers may make better use of this resource as their need for that next story is greater than their staff member counterparts.
“The moderation team at guardian.co.uk now has a Twitter feed @GuardianVoices which highlights good individual comments and interesting debate. Could they be used as a tool to collect potential leads? After all, moderators will already be reading the majority of content of the publication they work for. However, it would require a rather different mindset to look out for story leads compared to the more usual role of finding and removing offensive content.”
It’s an idea worth considering – although, as Todd himself concludes:
“Increased interactivity with users builds trust, which in turn produces a higher class of debate and, with it, more opportunities for follow-up articles. Perhaps it is now time for the journalists to take inspiration from their communities as well.”
That aside, could this work? Could moderators work to identify leads?
*Disclosure: he’s also a former student of mine
This is the model followed at the BBC’s UGC hub – except the moderators are all journalists there. The obvious problem in replicating this practice is that it’s so damned expensive. It’s just too resource-intensive to (in Peter Horrocks’ term) “sort the wheat from the chaff”.
Definitely! And they [contributor] come up with some cracking stuff too. But the moderator has to a journalist to spot the potential in the first place. In my experience, getting in touch with a contributor is good for business too as it builds trust, and makes them – and their contribution – feel valued and brings them back for more.
It would indeed be a resource-intensive practice, if rolled out across the board, but there is no reason why it shouldn’t work in theory. Moderation teams will be reading the majority of content anyway, all it takes it the ability to spot a potential lead and then refer it on to a reporter to look at.
As Nick says, it helps if that moderator is a journalist to spot it, but I’m not sure that its essential. The majority of those commenting on articles are not journalists, but most know a good comment when they see one. In fact, a number of article contributors have been plucked straight from the comments sections of Comment is Free.
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