The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

5 October 2005

Dead trees strike back!

This being National Newspaper Week — is there a parade? — there is the requisite quantity of promotional materials to remind us of just how essential the daily paper truly is.

Eric Siegmund happened upon one of them and happily mocks it. Here's the text from the original (which you can see at the above link, or here in PDF format):

Letters to the editor: the Original Web Blog
Every day all across America citizens participate in their community's public discussions and debates by writing a letter to the editor of the local newspaper. Letters to the editor in the newspaper provide an ideal forum for citizens to exchange ideas and opinions. A way to interact with fellow citizens about the issues of the day.

Eric finds this pitch risible:

[T]he idea that printed letters to the editor "provide an ideal forum for citizens to exchange ideas and opinions" is laughable, especially in comparison to comments-enabled blogs. The editorial control over those printed letters and the absence of real-time dialog makes them far from ideal. (Granted, the same kind of editorial control is theoretically possible in blogs, but the blogospheric feedback mechanism is swift and without pity. Blogs that engage in significant editing of comments will likely find themselves without commenters or readers.)

I am reminded of something Michael Bates said last year about the Tulsa World:

The Whirled, for whatever reason, won't publish letters until the relevant story is good and cold — at least two weeks after the event or story that the letter addresses, long after the story has migrated from their website to their website's archives or from your coffee table to the recycling bin.

As forums (fora?) go, this strikes me as being well short of the "ideal."

One impertinent statistic: Most days that I see it, the Oklahoman runs four or five letters to the editor. Assuming that this is a standard practice at the Black Tower, this means that since August of 2002, they have run about 5,700 letters. During the same period, I have accumulated 11,000 comments.

Now I have to assume that their market share has to be a lot higher than mine; they're the only general-interest daily in town, and I run just one blog among dozens, maybe hundreds. Besides, my comment-to-post ratio, slightly above 2, is distinctly lower than average for this traffic level; there's far more actual dialogue at other blogs.

Besides, "Web Blog" is at least slightly redundant.

Posted at 8:03 AM to Blogorrhea


TrackBack: 6:01 PM, 5 October 2005
» National Newspaper Week from The Gleeson Bloglomerate
Sorry, it escaped our attention before today, but we’re smack in the middle of National Newspaper Week, a special week dedicated to making those in the newspaper profession feel worthwhile and important. It’s as easy a conceit to mock as a......[read more]

Playing devil's advocate: Waiting until a story cools off before presenting feedback, as some traditional newspapers do in their letter columns, has some value.

The immediacy of blog comments means you get load of off-the-cuff reaction, without a perspective that can come after the story plays out more fully. While there's no close date on comments, once a post moves off the front page, and significant time (weeks, months) have passed, it's unlikely that there'll be significant additional dialogue added to it, at least on most blogs. It's up to the blog author to revive/sustain the topic in further posts, and that doesn't always happen.

Posted by: CT at 10:11 AM on 6 October 2005

I close off threads after seven days, though this is more of a spam-prevention tool than a desire to shut down the dialogue, if any.

Posted by: CGHill at 1:26 PM on 6 October 2005