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Being present on your site is as important as building content

March 25, 2010

In terms of building a quality news site—or any site, really—there isn’t much more to be said other than: Be present. Sure, building content on your site is a huge deal, but what a lot of people don’t seem to get is that posting content is only the first half of a bigger job. The second half of that job is to be present in the conversation that follows.

The problem with not being present is that it makes you look careless. It’s an easy trap to fall into, especially for newspaper reporters who are coming from the “put it to bed” world of print editions (at the end of the day, you finalize edits to the print edition and “put it to bed”—send it to the presses). Online, there is no “to bed.” Someone might comment on one of your stories a year after the fact.

Think of it like this: Print newspapers are like sculptures. You spend time crafting them, building them and making a thousand little tweaks to them to make them perfect. Then once you’re done, they sit in a finished state forever. Web sites are more like gardens: You plant some seeds and spray some water on them…but if that’s all you do, your garden is going to die. You need to tend to it every day, if not more often, because the health of your garden is dependent on how much work you put into it.

Not to beat this analogy to death, but let’s take it to a quick conclusion: You decide to display your sculpture in your garden, outside your home. Guess what? It doesn’t matter how nice your home looks or how great that sculpture is—people are going to notice if you have brown grass and decaying plants and decide that your place looks kinda tacky.

I know all the arguments about only having so much time in a day and not wanting to cheapen journalism by getting involved in toxic comment threads. I also don’t care. You can sit around and make excuses, or you can roll up your sleeves and get to work in the garden.


4 Comments leave one →
  1. Renaud de Clermont-Tonnerre permalink
    March 25, 2010 11:59 am

    Your comparison between “sculpture” and “garden” is very sensible : I
    “ll use it.

  2. March 25, 2010 12:24 pm

    Thanks! Glad you liked it.

  3. March 26, 2010 10:24 am

    Given the tenor of comments on our site during the health care overhaul, it’s been intimidating to be present in that debate. But giving it a shot today on a thread related to an officer-involved shooting. So far, so good.

  4. March 26, 2010 10:53 am

    @Andrew – Yeah, looks like things are going pretty well. (Note: Something I struggle with on our comment threads is, when someone makes a comment that I have to delete and the comment has replies to it, do I also delete the replies, since they either reinforce the comment or make no sense out of context?)

    With regard to the health care debate: I can understand what you mean by “intimidating.” A lot of the people who comment on those types of things are zealots; they come armed with information, no matter how inaccurate, and it’s not like you’re going to come to any agreement. In those situations, all I try to do is keep personal attacks from happening. From where I sit, it’s OK to yell at one another, so long as you’re keeping it to “that’s idiotic” versus “you’re an idiot for thinking that.” It’s bare-minimum civility, but sometimes in those cases, it’s the only thing you can control (short of shutting down the thread).

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