Thursday, January 10, 2008

Sounds Good

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer added reader forums to their website some time ago, and for the most part they are a waste of time, bandwidth and disk space. For any conversation that goes longer than a dozen posts, the common fate is that it becomes a politically polarized shouting match between a some bunch of yahoos that drone on and on and on and on and on about how moronic, immoral or hypocritical liberals are (yet seem to have nothing better to do to than read a fairly liberal newspaper in a fairly liberal market and then write screed after pseudo-conservative screed in the reader comment forums) and some bunch of self-proclaimed liberals who seem to have nothing better to do than feed the trolls.

But this particular SoundOff is actually enlightening. One of the posters, thezorg, is a lawyer (Given that its effectively an anonymous forum, and I don't know who thezorg is in real life, he could be lying and just slept at a Holiday Inn last night. But I'm actually fairly certain he's the real deal.), and offers some really good information on the process, and the thinking that goes into it, that's missing from the newspaper article that people were responding to in the first place. He quickly manages to hijack what was quickly turning into dueling ignorant screeds, and turned it into a very informative question-and-answer session.

It is also, in my opinion something that could be made into a model for web-based newspapers. I have no idea how much server space the Post-Intelligencer has devoted to its innumerable staff and reader webblogs. But I suspect that some of those resources could be re-purposed into providing contextual depth that is currently lacking in many stories. thezorg fills in some really big gaps in the background of the story that readers needed to lower the sensationalism value, and make the piece really educational. Written as a single piece of prose, it would make an excellent companion piece to the article (and could even take the place of some of the Associate Press filler on the website). This strikes me as the sort of thing that actually provides value to the newspaper reader, and could even be worth paid subscriptions.

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