Thursday, September 12, 2013

Ft. Worth @StarTelegram requires Facebook for comments; good for discourse, bad for trolls

In a move that I hope will send some of those online trolls to cower under their bridges away from the light, the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram announced this week that they will now require users to log in to Facebook to use their commenting system.

In his announcement, S-T executive editor, Jim Witt explained that the reason was pretty simple: "Facebook requires account holders to use their names, and we believe that anyone who wants to contribute to our public forums should put their name on it."

He then went on to bolster the argument for signed (in) online comments because of the difference in discourse between those that were anonymous vs those that come in with real names attached.

"In signed letters for our print editions, writers make their points using reasoned and usually reasonable arguments. But online, comment threads too often devolve into a cesspool of name-calling. On some stories, we are forced to turn off the commenting feature because the language becomes too offensive. 
"In talking to readers, I’ve found that many have been discouraged from commenting because they are turned off by the nastiness."
I believe this is a smart move for my local paper and one that hopefully will raise the intelligence quotient a bit on stories that matter to communities across DFW covered in the paper. It seems to me the S-T recognizes that for at least the near future, Facebook doesn't appear to be going anywhere. And other media outlets use it as their commenting system of choice for some of the very same reasons as outlined in the S_t announcement.  
Why is this important for PR? Since a function of PR includes media relations, it's part of our job to know how the stories are getting developed, sourced and told. We should also know to whom we connect a journalist in order to provide the trusted source they need. (Hint: it's often not the PR person.) We've seen that a growing number of journalists are finding and using sources from social channels.

"...51 per cent of journalists worldwide say they use microblogs (e.g. Twitter, Facebook and Weibo) to gather new stories – provided the source behind those accounts is known and trusted by them (2012 figure, 54 per cent). As was the case in 2012, reliance on these sources falls dramatically when the sources are not known to the journalist: 25 per cent say they source stories in this way." [Oriella PR Network Global Digital Journalism Study 2013]
The study also indicates that in certain respects, a journalist's success on stories now tends to be measured in the number of unique visits, number of views, increase in social followers, likes/tweets on articles, and number of online comments along with advertising revenue and exclusive features.

I hope our journalist friends over at the Star-Telegram will take this shift to Facebook commenting as an opportunity to engage in what could be ongoing dialogue on the important issues in the community. It is not out of the realm of possibility to have a trusted source from within the organization chime in through article comments (if it's in the best interest of the organization s/he is representing) to provide clarifications, corrections, or contextual additions. This might give pause to some especially for those who don't like to mix work life with home/community life. I believe we've reached the point that our online professional and personal selves are blends now and we should treat online communication as such.

The Ft. Worth Star-Telegram now requires Facebook for article comments. It's a good thing and online trolls beware.

Photo credit: Doug Wildman via Flickr Creative Commons