A gruff Sacramento Bee city editor was getting an earful from an angry reader on the telephone a decade or so ago, getting more agitated as he tried to get a word in edgewise. I was walking by the local news desk as the conversation wound up, and I could hear his frustration as he kept trying to interject.
Ma’am, he kept repeating. Can I say something? Just two words? After several attempts he yelled two words into the phone that I’m not going to repeat here, and slammed down the receiver.
If there is an upside to the difficult decade newspapers have come through, it might just be that we value our readers more than journalists did early in my career.
I can’t say that no journalist is arrogant or rude. But I do think the effort to stay at arm’s length from the community, lest we somehow lose our objectivity, has softened instead into a technology-enabled effort to engage with readers.
These days we might ask you to take a sports poll or chat with a reporter online or send us travel photos or talk to us on Facebook. Reporters and editors respond to as many emails as they can and talk to readers in the community. We launch crowdsourcing experiments in which community experts help us build collections of data.
Our goal is simple: to help connect all of you to your community. It’s a key part of our mission at The Bee, along with watching the powerful, reporting interesting things and saving you time and money.
Many of you participate in different ways:eight sacbee.com live chats and 18 live blogs letters to the editor make a cogent point
We’re still reinventing one of our most important engagement tools – our commenting system at Sacbee. Last fall we shut down our commenting system to rid the site of trolls, those who delight in insulting people or otherwise sabotaging the conversation. We switched our technology and invited subscribers to be the first to comment in the new system. Unfortunately we had some snags slow the process, but at this point subscribers who have activated their digital account at sacbee.com have been invited to comment. ( Make sure you activate so we can invite you.)
Now we’ll expand the ability to comment to non-subscribers, and soon will introduce a way to comment directly through sacbee.com as well as Facebook or other social sign-ons. The volume of comments likely won’t pick up until we’re done, but Director of Digital Sean McMahon already characterizes the tone as “more collegial.”
While I know from emails that some of you are unhappy with the pace of the rollout, I view the new system as a long-term investment in our ability to engage with all readers in a forum that invites broad participation, rather than chasing people away because they’re discouraged by the hateful tone.
We plan to continue to experiment with ways to offer a little fun and invite you to join us in polls, crowdsourcing or key conversations.