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Bloggertariat vs Commentariat – who’s winning? (does it matter?)

Last night Journalism.co.uk picked up its laptop and notepad, and sat on the fence. Sitting in the audience of the Editorial Intelligence/Edelman/Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism ‘Commentariat vs Bloggertariat, Who is winning?’ event typing away definitely had me branded as a ‘blogger’ by some of the established comment writers in the row in front, who seemed to throw a glance every time liveblogging was mentioned.

Blogger/reporter/observer – it was a night of arbitrary definitions – some of which were fortunately challenged by the panel of:

Martin Bright, New Deal of the Mind founder and Spectator blogger

Mick Fealty, political blogger at Slugger O’Toole and the Telegraph’s Brassneck blog

Iain Dale, Iain Dale’s diary

David Aaronovitch, comment writer for The Times

Anne Spackman, comment editor for The Times

‘versus’
Before attending the event I had some reservations about setting up bloggers/blogs vs comment writers/comment – so it was good to see this artificial opposition challenged by both panel and audience.

“They are part of the same thing – it is part of the same continuum. I think it’s an artificial distinction,” said Bright.

But there are new rules and etiquette that blogging, and the technology which powers it, have introduced, which are shaping the future of comment.

“Bloggers have been able to hold traditional commentariat to account. That gets an instant reaction from the commentariat because they’re not used to be held to accountable in this way,” explained Dale.

“When you do comment quickly you do make mistakes and you have to hold your hands up.”

And if the future of journalism and the business of publishing is online, bloggers are the pathfinders, added Fealty:

“We’ve changed the behaviour of a commentariat. It isn’t bloggers that have ripped the revenue out of the big newsgatherers – it’s Google,” he said.

“Online bloggers have started a party that is irresistible to the commentariat. Spreadability is the new currency. To do that you need a personal audience as a blogger.

“They [the commentariat] are better writers, but there are many more of us than there are of them (…) We’re getting stories from the little people, not the big people that the commentariat are. The people we talk to aren’t always the best behaved witnesses.

“We’re not obliged to fit in with someone else’s brand. Bloggers are brand builders, the new brand online (…) is us speaking directly from the gut.”

Anonymity and NightJack
Last night’s event was timely given the debate over the Times decision to out anonymous policeman blogger NightJack – despite a punchy start from Iain Dale, neither Spackman nor Aaronovitch would be drawn on the issue.

However, Spackman did say she agreed with Jeff Jarvis that social media sites were breaking down anonymity.

Aaronovitch went further saying he could see previously ‘anonymous’ political sources in comment writing being unmasked and suggested that this was a necessary development.

Bright agreed and said he hoped this would happen ‘organically': “It is changing, but at the moment it isn’t changing fast enough.”

For journalists using social and new media sources, transparency is needed, added Aaronovitch: “There are synergies there (…) I use bloggers as sources of information I wouldn’t otherwise get. There’s a form of democratisation there. It’s unreliable democratisation – I don’t really know what I’m getting or who I’m getting it from.”

Twitter challenge and shaping the future
The commentariat has been with us for 25 years, but how the shape of the ‘bloggertariat’ will shift in the same time is almost unpredictable, he added.

“I absolutely love what the new media has created (…) the possibilities it has created for me and everyone else.

“We couldn’t even imagine two years ago that there’d be a form of 140 characters and we had no idea how it would apply itself to situations like Iran.

“‘Commentariat vs bloggertariat’ suggests a settled contention that we know where everybody is and everybody’s going.”

Indeed the rise of Twitter was agreed to be a somewhat unforeseen challenge to the dominance of blogging over traditional comment.

“I’ve yet to read a great classic blog post. I think it’s getting close with Twitter. Every now and then you do read a fantastic tweet,” said Bright.

But, commenting on yesterday’s launch of the UK Investigations Fund, Bright said he was concerned that developments and the future of neither the bloggertariat or commentariat would accommodate investigative journalism.

UPDATE – you can now download Editorial Intelligence’s podcast of the event.

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Guido to introduce community rating system to blog

(or, ‘how many times can we use the word ‘comment’ in one blog post’?)

Guido Fawkes got the comments going today with a post that said he is ‘mulling over’ whether to moderate comments over the holiday period. He also announces that in the new year a ‘community rating’ element will be introduced to his blog (details at end of this post).

Guido Fawkes, aka Paul Staines, referred back to November, to the Goldsmiths seminar on media ethics and a comment from the Times Comment editor, Anne Spackman, who said that TimesOnline spends ‘six figures’ on pre-moderating online comments [unclear over what time period - Journalism.co.uk will follow-up soon. UPDATE 19/12: Anne Spackman told Journalism.co.uk that the paper cannot currently clarify exact details, but that a six figure bill is paid to another partner.]

Fawkes said today on his blog:

“It is certainly expensive in time, every morning Guido deletes a load of comments which have, in his rather arbitrary judgement, just gone too far.”

Journalism.co.uk was also at the Goldsmiths event and spoke to Fawkes afterwards. He told Journalism.co.uk that he doesn’t moderate comments – ‘it has to get pretty gynecological before I do’.

In regards to the BNP list (which had leaked that week): “I did allow it. oh terrible, terrible, terrible. Oh well…”

“I deleted the stuff about Baby P,” he told Journalism.co.uk.

“I noticed it [information about Baby P] was still on the BBC’s website. I called them up, and they said ‘we’re not taking it down because the order doesn’t apply’.  I said ‘well, is it because it’s an order or because it is right or wrong?'”

Fawkes said that if he is found to be ‘in the wrong’ he’ll take something down, but added that ‘it’s very difficult to send me a writ.’

“Unless you catch me having a drink here, where are you going to send the writ?”

“There’s no bricks and mortar,” he said.

While Guido Fawkes says on his blog post that he takes a ‘sticks and stones view to a large extent’, he outlines a number of changes to be introduced in the New Year:

“[Y]ou [the users] will still be able to say what you like (within somewhat arbitrary inconsistent limits) without pre-moderation or registering. However there will be incentives for those who produce better quality commentary based on a new element of co-conspirator community rating.

“Good comments will be more prominently displayed, disliked comments will be less prominent. The biggest innovation is that it will be possible for readers to set their own tolerance thresholds. Poorly rated comments will be invisible to those who set their preferences accordingly.

“If you only want to see comments judged by co-conspirators to be witty, amusing or illuminating, set your threshold to ‘Recommended’. Don’t want to read foul language? Set your threshold to ‘U’. Want to see all and any comments no matter how foul? Set your threshold to ‘XXX’.

“If your commentary is consistently recommended your comments will automatically be more prominent in the future and may even get highlighted on the frontpage.”

Unmoderated comments follow his post.

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Times are changing: an online jobs shuffle at Times Online

October 7th, 2008 | No Comments | Posted by in Newspapers, Online Journalism

So, it’s all change at the Times and Times Online.

Anne Spackman, as reported last week, is now the comment editor of the main paper, after a spell as editor-in-chief at Times Online since 2006.

That role is not being replaced. Instead:

  • Tom Whitwell, who is currently communities editor at Times Online, will be assistant editor of Times Online.
  • Hector Arthur, who was previously the head of content development for Times Online, is the new head of digital development for the website.

Speaking in a press release, the Times’ editor, James Harding said:  “Anne Spackman has done an extraordinary job at Times Online bringing our journalism to more people than at any time in our history.

“She has expanded the nature of what we do as a news organisation, introducing a 24/7 newsroom, launching The Times Archive and developing our podcasts, video and reader comments online”, he said.

Praising the new online assistant editor, Harding said that Tom Whitwell had “been one of the driving forces behind the phenomenal growth of Times journalism online and our audiences worldwide.”

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Guardian: Times website seeks Sky News link-up

The Times website wants to carry more video content from Sky News.

Times Online editor-in-chief, Anne Spackman, told MediaGuardian.co.uk that negotiations to make this happen were at an early stage on the newspaper website carrying breaking news videos from Sky.

Any deal is likely to improve the online video offering from the Times.

Despite being one of the first national newspapers to adopt a TV service the Times offering has fallen behind other nationals – in terms of quality – and seems to be due an overhaul.

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PPA Magazines 2008: TimesOnline could reward commenters

May 7th, 2008 | No Comments | Posted by in Journalism

Ongoing discussions at TimesOnline could see a reward system for regular contributors to the site’s comments.

Anne Spackman, editor-in-chief of the site, said it was early days but a way to reward or highlight regular and valuable commenters on the site was being considered.

Spackman, who was speaking at the PPA’s annual conference for the magazine industry, said the focus of any such system would be on making the reader feel their involvement with the site was worthwhile.

“We are not likely to have users writing the news. I think what we will start to do is to pull in those people who have wider value and are of our better commenters,” she said.

She added that comments left by users were increasingly being fed back into reporting, which in turn generates a reader response creating ‘a vital circle’.

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PPA Magazines 2008: Timesonline readers ‘obsessed with house prices’

May 7th, 2008 | No Comments | Posted by in Events, Magazines, Newspapers, Search

Readers of TimesOnline are obsessed with house prices and road tax, according to Anne Spackman, editor-in-chief of the title.

Readers of the site’s business section also go home early on Fridays, Spackman told delegates at the PPA’s annual conference.

The information gleaned from the site’s search queries is vital to understanding Timesonline readers and shaping content on the site, she said.

However, while search data helped journalists to understand ‘the hook that pulls the reader in’, she stressed that just writing to maximise search rankings is not what journalists are for.

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Mirror’s video partnership with Roo ‘a bloody mess’ claims former site editor

April 7th, 2008 | No Comments | Posted by in Multimedia, Newspapers

UPDATE: take our poll on whether or not video journalism can save the newspaper

The Mirror‘s partnership with Roo Media to deliver more video content on its site has been described as ‘a bloody mess’ by former site editor Steve Purcell.

His comments, which form part of Neil Thurman and Ben Lupton’s academic report into multimedia storytelling by British news websites, were made last year – shortly after a video player supported by Roo’s technology was introduced to the site.

“The promises that were made by [our content partner, Roo Media] didn’t materialize…. It was a bloody mess, relying on American led stuff,” Purcell told the report, which questioned leading editors on newsroom convergence, video and audio content, multimedia training and the potential for advertising within digital content.

An additional interview with Anne Spackman, editor of TimesOnline, highlighted similar concerns over the launch of video with Roo on the site.

“We didn’t have a sense of ownership of the player… When those early deals were done nobody knew what people would want to watch on a site like ours…”

Part of the problem, said Spackman, was that providers did not understand what video content would work well alongside a text story on the site.

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