In Chapter 10 of Journalism Next, Briggs focuses on the progression of news from a lecture to a conversation. Gone are the days when a journalist would write a story, print it in a newspaper, and occasionally respond to one or two letters to the editor. Now almost everything published online has a comments section, and almost every comments section is filled with a mix of both positive and negative feedback. This transition of the news from a one-way to a two-way conversation requires serious adaptation on behalf of the journalist, and ethical norms have yet to be set for this new back and forth between the journalist and the audience.
Briggs points out three areas of evolution suggesting a brighter future for comments on news stories;
“the technology is getting better, newsrooms are accepting more responsibility and the commenters are expecting more from each other”
Briggs also writes about Doug Feaver of washingtonpost.com and his opinion that even through horrible comments and reader feedback journalists benefit.
Feaver discusses that even though comments are “‘…sometimes profane, frequently off point and occasionally racist…'” the transparency they allow journalism is worth it, as comment sections “‘…provide a forum for readers to complain about what they see as unfairness or inaccuracy in an article (and too often they have a point)…'”
Briggs identifies social media as an emerging and integral part of todays news cycle, presenting statistics proving how in the past few years the number of adults with profiles on social networking sites has skyrocketed, jumping from 8% in 2005 to 66% in 2012. This means that today over 2/3 of all adults are regularly creating content on social networking sites. Also, among adults ages 18 to 29 this number is even greater, being 86%.
I see these statistics as warnings for journalists of the future, that we need to keep up, move forward, embrace new technology, and learn how to produce news for the two-way conversation. Moving into the future, our generation, the 86% creating content, is going to be the older generation, and a younger generation of news consumers is going to emerge. This audience is going to be even more technologically savvy, they are going to be even more involved in social media, and they are going to expect much more from their news makers.
Transparency in the reporting process in one of the main benefits Briggs identifies as stemming from reader involvement through comment sections on news sites and social media outlets. Transparency is something I predict will become a demand rather than a request from the audience of the future.
Briggs also delves into the ethical issues surrounding comment sections on news stories. While he clearly supports reader involvement and the two-way conversation, he does identify the downsides of the comment sections. Comment sections on news outlets allow anyone, anywhere, to say anything they want. This, ironically, is both the main advantage and the main disadvantage of the comments section. While these outlets allow people with legitimate opinions to have their voice heard, they also allow mean-spirited, out of line bullies to have their voice heard. We have all either personally experienced this or seen it time and time again, and sometimes this makes me question why a news site even allows a comments section at all. I often read an article then skim the comments section to find extremely over the top and disgustingly offensive reader feedback, and too often I notice these comments have nothing to do with the article they are commenting on.
Briggs recognizes this, saying, “At their worst, story comments are nothing more than senseless drivel.”
Briggs goes on to explain how “Hot-button topics are obvious triggers, but locally sensitive issues tend to spill over into all areas as well” giving the example of how in 2008 editors of the San Diego Union Tribune noticed that the debate over illegal immigration seemed to pop up in almost every comments section, no matter what the article was on, because that was the hot issue at the time.
You literally see it everywhere, no matter what article or what news site, if it has a comments section there are bound to be some idiotic and insensitive remarks. Just now, I was reading a short article on CNN about the tragic death of 6 teenagers in a car accident, and scrolled through the comments section, wondering what anyone could possibly have to say, to come across some anonymous post about how women should not drive and blond women are “statistically more likely to get into accidents.” Most of the rest of the conversation in this comments section was a heated debate on religion. It is obviously hard for me as a journalist, and ethically as a person, not to get a little angry seeing this.
However, what I remind myself is that no matter how much I may dislike some comments, the commenter has just as much of a right to say what they want to say as anyone else does. The first amendment is just as legitimate for them as it is for a professional journalist, and they are entitled to give their opinion whether it is right or wrong. That is the beauty of America, isn’t it? The question is; as journalists are we obligated to provide people with the forum for voicing these opinions?