Author Archives: John Jarvis

GJR readers weigh in on online comments for news articles

Thanks to everyone who participated in Gateway Journalism Review’s survey about online comments for news articles.

The first question in the survey asked, “Should news organizations ask for comments about online stories?” and 81.8 percent of the respondents said yes.

For this question, one respondent wrote: “I don't know that they should necessarily solicit comments, but I like the option to comment if I so desire. I often find that the comments, particularly on controversial subjects, to be as interesting and illuminating – if not more so – than the original article.”

Question No. 2 asked, “If comments are allowed, should people be required to register as ‘users’?” and 70.3 percent said yes.

“Absolutely!” one commenter wrote. “It makes people more accountable. I think that you would probably have fewer people making inflammatory comments if they know that what they say can be traced to a user identity.”

The third question was, “If registration is required, should people be required to use their real name?” Of those who voted, 80 percent said yes.

“I can see the need for anonymity in some cases, but they should be required to register with their real names, at least,” one voter wrote. “A lack of accountability leads to infestations of trolls, and drives out thoughtful responses.”

Next, the survey asked, “If the website has a pay wall, should only paid subscribers be allowed to comment?” The majority, 58.1 percent, said no.

One commenter with the minority view summed it up this way: “If one cares enough to pay, then they should not have to be subjected to the positions of those who are unwilling to contribute to the forum. We must learn that talk should not be cheap.”

When asked whether website administrators should be allowed to delete comments, 81.8 percent of the respondents said yes.

“They should be encouraged to delete them,” one respondent wrote. “Comments affect a news site’s image. If that’s worth protecting, a news organization will delete comments that damage its brand.”

The question “How often do you post comments about online articles?” generated several different answers. Forty percent said they never post comments; 25.4 percent said they do once or twice a year; 18.1 percent said they post comments once or twice a month; and 9 percent said they comment once or twice a week. Just 1.8 percent said they post comments daily.

“Even when I want to comment, I just don’t,” one survey respondent wrote. “I have written directly to writers, though, particularly to point out mistakes (mostly CNN, not people who are my friends, though I would write them as well if I saw something).”

When asked if they read the online comments about articles, 83.6 percent said they do.

“Oh, yesss,” one commenter said. “They’re invariably hilarious. Too serious in tone, the quote from somebody at Google about bounce rates and interactivity, the disapproving acknowledgement that the Internet is full of horrible people – it’s like a York mystery play for journalists. And the comments on those stories are always from deep down in the crazy guts of the Internet.”

The next question asked, “Do you think the online comments influence the way you think about the article and the topics in the article?” Just 5.4 percent of the survey respondents agreed with this question, while 25.4 percent said only somewhat. The top response, at 40 percent, was that “it depends on the topic,” and the next-highest response, at 30.9 percent, was “no.”

“Well, I’d certainly like to think they don’t, but I suspect the data would show that they do, to all of us, even when we might not realize it,” one wrote.

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The phrase must go on – and on

Political news junkies are surely growing tired of the phrase “looming fiscal cliff.” So, too, are the media members who are covering the biggest topic on Capitol Hill as the year winds down. (“viagra without a prescription

20tears%20fiscal%20cliff”>Bored to tears” is how Fox News’ Shepard Smith described his feelings about the entire issue in his “Studio B” broadcast Dec. 12.)

Mackenzie Weinger, a breaking news reporter at Politico, notes in a story titled “Media finds fiscal cliff a steep climb” that “the phrase ‘looming fiscal cliff’ has been uttered more than 175 times on cable TV and appeared more than 300 times in newspapers since the start of December.” Weinger’s story was posted on Politico’s website Dec. 23.

So what, exactly, does the phrase mean? And is it accurate?

The term “fiscal cliff” owes its existence to Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, who uttered the phrase in an address to the House Financial Services Committee in February. The term itself is something of a misnomer; since all the cuts won’t happen at once. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonprofit think tank, calls the nation’s looming austerity crisis a “slope,” not a cliff, while the nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute has used the phrase “obstacle course” to describe what’s on the fiscal horizon.

The phrase has attracted attention from all manner of media members. Some, like Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor, publisher and part owner of The Nation magazine, have called it “a manufactured media drama.” But others see a serious problem looming: Should no deal be reached, the federal government will “run out of room to finance its large running deficits,” reports Annie Lowrey for the New York Times.

Democrats and Republicans alike have turned to social media outlets to communicate with the American people about the issue, and both President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner have been using Twitter to boost support for their respective sides. (President Obama also has a personal quote on his Facebook page that reads, “When the American people speak loudly enough, lo and behold, Congress listens.”)

Because “looming fiscal cliff” is a sound bite that invokes all sorts of Wyle E. Coyote mental images, media members have incorporated the term into the narrative surrounding the attempts by Congress and President Obama to implement austerity measures to deal with the nation’s increasing debt and federal spending.

The cartoon analogy may be apt in more ways than one, as Boehner suffered an embarrassing setback Dec. 20 at the hands of his own party. Boehner was attempting to pass a GOP measure, called “Plan B,” that would let tax rates rise for millionaires – and would have allowed Republicans to claim they were the only ones on Capitol Hill who had passed something designed to keep the economy from lurching off the cliff. But he couldn’t muster enough Republican votes to pass the bill, so he was forced to withdraw it before offering it up to the entire House. That fiasco decimated any bargaining power he had with the president on the issue.

The Washington Post’s Wonkblog website notes in a post titled “The Fiscal Cliff: Absolutely everything that you could possibly need to know, in one FAQ,” that there are five tax measures that have provisions that are set to expire at the end of the year: the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts; the 2009 stimulus; the payroll tax “holiday”; the alternative minimum tax; and a catch-all category of corporate tax break “extenders.” As of Jan. 1, should no deal be reached, $500 billion in tax increases and another $200 billion in spending cuts are scheduled to take effect. (These measures were included in the Budget Control Act, which was a package of automatic spending cuts Congress passed in August 2011.) The Congressional Budget Office predicts that the combination of these two actions, which is equal to about 4 percent of our nation’s gross domestic product, will be enough to send our country into a recession – a result of too much austerity too soon for a fragile economy to absorb.

Members of Congress returned to Washington Dec. 27, but as long as no deal appears imminent, the phrase “looming fiscal cliff” isn’t going away anytime soon.