Category: The Media

When newspapers started introducing comment sections on articles, I thought it was a great move. Unfortunately, the devil is in the details and most newspapers do comments very poorly. There is a backlash towards user participation in news sites, but people need to realize that its the poor implementation thats leading to bad, hurtful, and poor comments. Here are a few quick suggestions for a successful comment implementation:

1. Require the use of real names
When you take anonymity away from the Internet commenter, you get rid of the vast majority of hateful and rude comments. Require all comment accounts to have name verification via credit card. Then display a shortened version of that name in the comment. Not only is it a way to get rid of hate comments, but it also gets people comfortable with providing payment information, which could be used in the future for a micropayment or subscription system.

2. Provide a moderation system

Slashdot has had a comment moderation system for over a decade, yet newspapers typically rely on some chronological order. Good content gets buried, while stupid one liners get displayed on the top. The best way to avoid this is by promoting quality.

3. Separate comments from the story
The Wall Street Journal is a good example of a well designed comment layout. Comments are highlighted in a tab, without overwhelming the content of the article. is good example of a horrible comment layout, with comments cluttering up the bottom of every story. You can promote comments, without diluting the content of the story.

4. Display comments in real time
My hometown paper has a comment system that requires human beings to review comments before they are posted, which is completely unacceptable and unsustainable. The implementation of a real name requirement, combined with a moderation system will remove the need for human verification of every comment. Obviously, a reporting mechanism and keyword filtering solution needs to be in place to keep out hate speech, and other undesirable content.

5. Provide threaded comments

The ability to reply to individual comments via a threaded discussion system is a key component of any successful comment implementation. When threading does not exist, people create it anyway by using the twitteresque @reply system.

Since Lance Armstrong’s comeback started earlier this year, he has embraced Twitter, blogging, and video blogging as means to communicate and interact with fans. A few weeks in to the Giro, Lance Armstrong stopped speaking with media, after the Italian press tried to vilify him because riders staged a protest on really dangerous course. This protest happened a day after a rider nearly died in a horrific crash.

Lance decided to cut out the middleman, and embrace new media as a means to disseminate information. Naturally, the mainstream media was not happy with the embargo. The major mainstream media outlets have a centuries old tradition of getting their asses kissed by those being covered. A New York Times writer published a snarky rebuke of Lance’s boycott yesterday. Quite ironically, it was in a New York Times “blog.”

Cycling is a sport that is poorly covered in the United States, so its easy to see why Lance would consider the press to be unnecessary. The New York Times sent Juliet Macur to cover the Giro. While Macur might be a gifted writer, she knows very little about cycling. Is it necessary for sports figures to embrace the media anymore?

Personally, I find Lance’s twitter feed and video blogs to be really interesting. Much more interesting than a lengthy media profile done by a journalist. There is certainly a need for good journalism, especially when it comes to controversial issues like performance enhancers. However; journalists need to accept twitter, and the fact that direct communication via the Internet is here to stay. Long gone are the days where major media outlets were the only method of disseminating information to the public.

In yet another example of the power of twitter, a few weeks ago I posted a snarky tweet about the Philadelphia Inquirer.

AlexValentine thinks the Philadelphia Inquirer should drop the daily news, and try making a website that doesn’t look like shit.

Naturally, I assumed that only a few eyeballs would actually see that tweet, but a few minutes later somebody from replied.

Now, I don’t pretend to be a modern web developer. I use to be decent at making web pages about a decade ago, but I haven’t done any professional web design in a long time. I wish website design was the Inquirer’s only problem, but as we all know by now, the newspaper business is dying. It use to be considered a slow death, but the economic meltdown is speeding up the death of newspapers, and the Philadelphia Inquirer is no exception.

In the past few weeks the death of print has been in heavy rotation in major media outlets, with lots of unqualified people giving their two cents, so here is another scoop of manure to add to the pile, specifically for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

  1. 1. Start Charging for

    It doesn’t need to be much, it could be as small as $1/month, but the newspaper industry needs to condition people to start paying for online access. has a huge advantage, because its a regional site. There is no comparable free online alternative to If you start introducing online payments in a phased incremental way, with tangible benefits to the user, people will pay.

  2. 2. Discard or Sell the Daily news.

    Why does one company sell two different daily newspapers in the same market? The Daily News is redundant. Philadelphia is not a big enough market for two major daily newspapers anymore, and the whole “Tabloid” delineation doesn’t make sense when there are no new readers to replace the ones dying every day.

  3. 3. Move Tabloid and Sports content to new separate online entities

    Its impossible for people to take seriously when the lead story is a hockey game, or every article’s footer features a picture of playmates or girls sporting bikini’s dancing at the “Wing Bowl.” I love sports and the occasional trashy article, but the widely varying quality of content needs to be properly segmented. When I go to a news website, I should have a general idea of what to expect. The current iteration of is like news site Russian roulette, you have no idea what you’re getting.

By now, everybody is aware that newspapers are dying a slow death. Last week, the cover of Time Magazine was “How to Save Your Newspaper.”

Now, its ironic that a news weekly would be discussing the death of newspapers, since news weeklies are equally if not more obsolete. In the article, Walter Issacson, the former Time chief talks about how newspapers need to get away from free online access, and move towards a micropayment model. He cites online music and movie stores as examples for the newspaper industry.

I wish micropayments were the easy answer, but its not. Unlike music and movies, news reporting is a commodity. Even if all the big national papers went to a micropayment format, people would flock to other media sources very quickly. Micropayments might be part of some solution, but they will not be the total solution, especially when you consider the huge first mover disadvantage.

Advertisers would strongly discourage micropayments because it would significantly reduce readership. There is always the question of how micropayments would work with blogs and referral sites. If you went to micropayment format, your content would not get linked on most blogs and content aggregators.

There is no easy answer for newspapers and magazines. They are both dying, and there is no clear light at the end of the tunnel, but there are a few rays of hope. E-readers like the Kindle are a new revenue source. Sure its small now, but if the devices get down to the $50 price point, it might be a good revenue source.

The key would be to not follow the music industry, where one company, Apple, has them by the balls. There needs to be a few strong e-reader options centered around open standards. Tie in the e-reader accounts to the web with micropayments, and you might have something worth paying for..

One thing is for sure, subsidizing your web presence with print revenues is not an option anymore. Newspapers and magazines need to monetize online or die.