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There’s somewhat of a contradiction in the latest posting on the BBC’s Editors Blog by Helen Boaden, director of BBC News.
Introducing the post, she writes:
This week I gave the keynote speech at the e-Democracy conference. You can read what I said below. I would be interested to know what you think.
The speech gives an overview of the BBC’s approach to citizen journalism.
But even though Boaden says she wants to hear “what you think”, she appears to be dismissive of the people who comment on blogs.
This highlights the difference in the audiences between those who are happy to read what others have to say and those self selecting minority who want to join in the debate themselves, knowing that the environment can be robust and that people might disagree with what they have to say.
She goes on to say that “those who join in the debate are by definition a vocal minority. They certainly have a place in a vibrant and impartial news environment but they need to be kept in perspective.”
There are certainly some people who will write abusive comments. These people have always existed. But to label everyone who has left a comment on a blog as a “vocal minority” is such a sweeping statement.
And this does not seem to be a way to encourage more people to comment in any case. To its credit, The Editors’ Blog has allowed comments such as this one from Junkkmale:
I better not join in here as, by this definition, I will be deemed to have moved from the acceptable ‘Shut up and take what you are given/silence is deemed consent’ camp to the, one presumes, non-BBC group of choice, here described as the ‘vocal minority’.
It would be interesting to find out how many people are registered to comment on BBC blogs and see a breakdown of volume of comments to see if it is, indeed, a ‘vocal minority’.
Perhaps the tone would be different if BBC bloggers engaged in the conversation themselves by responding to comments. Some newspaper sites have been successful in fostering communities on their blogs.
In any case, what about the thousands of people who complained to the BBC about the Brand and Ross prank calls? Were these voices, some argue whipped up by the press, more valid than the 33,000 people who commented on the BBC’s Have Your Say page?
Clearly there are issues in handling comments, and some research suggests that comments can impact how people view a news story. But dismissing those who try to engage in the news process is not a constructive way of fostering a conversation.
You’re welcome to comment on this post, as I would value your thoughts.