Online comments break down a lot of barriers — people who once had little or no voice have, for a decade or more now, been able to add their viewpoints, questions, facts or, often, attacks and asides to stories written by professionals.
This no-longer-new relationship asks a lot of questions that media types still aren’t prepared to answer just yet. Here’s one that just occurred to me during the course of my workday: What’s the etiquette on a contributor commenting on a story posted by a staffer? And, to broaden the question, what’s the etiquette on commenting on a colleague’s post?
Camera science and environment reporter Laura Snider wrote a story about two massive solar flares. Here it is, in its entirety, as it appeared at 3:20 p.m. today. As an employee of parent company Prairie Mountain Publishing using it for educational/analytical purposes, I’m hoping nobody gets mad at me for it, but you know where to find me if you want it truncated or removed:
A pair of massive solar flares that erupted from the sun’s surface Tuesday at about 5 p.m. Colorado time are expected to slam into the Earth early Thursday morning, possibly affecting communications and power, according to the Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder.
The two X-class flares erupted within about an hour of each other, and they’re now screaming toward Earth at speeds of at least 1,100 miles per second, according to NASA. When the flares arrive, they’re expected to further agitate Earth’s magnetic field, which is already being affected by a solar flare that occurred Sunday.
“Things are already disturbed, and we’re going to pound on them some more with another shot from the sun,” said Joe Kunches, a scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, where the Space Weather Prediction Center is housed.
The resulting geomagnetic storm has the potential to disrupt high frequency radio communications, global positioning systems and power grids.
Not long after it was posted, there were the usual wise-cracking comments — as well as this one, from Dave Taylor, who writes a
weekly approximately monthly (see comments) column for the Camera (in addition to a plethora of other things).
Aside from the fact that Dave uses his real name and a mugshot, it’s got the usual hallmarks of a snarky online comment, right? And who doesn’t enjoy a bit of snark?
I happen to disagree with Dave, and think that writing science stories, especially for general consumption, calls for approachable, active language. My disagreeing with something in a comment isn’t what’s interesting, though.
The interesting part is that Dave’s work appears in the same space as Laura’s, albeit on a different topic, so you’d think he’d be less quick than most to compare her writing about scientific phenomena to tabloid journalism. I’m a big believer in tweeting at colleagues — often even if they’re in the same room. And I think there are great opportunities for colleagues commenting on each other’s stories, you know, collegially.
But the “National Enquirer” thing distracts from any point he hopes to make about Laura’s word choice. From my point of view, this is not a particularly useful piece of criticism — just a slightly mean-spirited bon mot. Again, exactly what you’d expect to see in comments, but the fact that Dave is a contributor makes it sort of a fascinating dynamic (to me, at least).
I hear this kind of lightly barbed criticism of voice — only occasionally — within the newsroom. Good-natured ribbing, to use the cliche. As far as I know, Dave isn’t close with Laura, so that sort of rules that out.
So here are my questions for you, some of which are inspired by Dave’s comment today:
- Do or should colleagues hold themselves to a different standard than the everyman commenter?
- Is there a place for publicly commenting on a colleague’s style?
- Is there a place for publicly commenting on a colleague’s accuracy?
- Does it serve journalists better to be asked these questions publicly?
- Does it serve news consumers better?