This story was originally published at Poynter. Republished here for archiving purposes.
Newspapers take a lot of flak when they or mis-attribute or fail to acknowledge the work of bloggers and members of the public in reporting a story, so it was refreshing to see my two local newspapers quickly respond to amend online reports following a number of corrective comments. But more interesting was to see how they reaped the benefits of that responsiveness.
One story – about the council’s £2.2m overspend on a new website – said it was based on a Freedom of Information request by “a member of the public”. Public Affairs Editor Paul Dale, who told me he spotted the story following a tweet, failed to mention that that “member of the public” was actually Heather Brooke, the investigative journalist who helped break the MPs’ expenses scandal – or that she submitted the FOI request as part of an investigation on Help Me Investigate, on which she works (the tweet and the FOI request both credited Help Me Investigate by the way).
The newspaper’s multimedia editor Steve Nicholls quickly amended the story following a comment. But note what happened next: because The Birmingham Post responded positively, I returned to the site and commented again. And I told my friends, who told their friends, many of whom clicked on a link and visited the piece, and some of whom – who had never commented on a Post story before – registered in order to congratulate the Post on their responsibility (see screengrab above).
So through simply being responsive to comments and acknowledging a mistake, that newspaper benefited from extra pageviews, extra time spent on the site, extra registrations and extra comments – not to mention the intangible goodwill generated towards the paper (and hopefully a few new print sales too).
Pete Ashton pointed out that their response may simply have been due to the person commenting, but this wasn’t an isolated example. A previous story (also generated by Help Me Investigate) looked at the most-ticketed streets in Birmingham – the comments thread demonstrated a similar responsiveness to different commenters – this time from reporter Tom Scotney (see screengrab below).
I know a lot of news organisations are implementing online strategies to both increase the number of pageviews and the amount of time people spend on the site – giving journalists and multimedia editors time to respond to comments and correct copy in this way has to be one of the most sensible planks of any such strategy.