Monday, May 25, 2015

Sounding off on weighing in

Every day, at least one of the news sources I follow on Facebook posts a link to a non-local story, accompanied by the invitation: WEIGH IN. Or SOUND OFF. Or the ever-popular: WHAT DO YOU THINK?

And I think: Go enterprise a real news story. The internet has enough rude, unmoderated comments.

The best reporting requires a little hustle on the part of reporters and editors. Ambition. Moxie. The best reporters do this, time and again. But in a Facebook world, it's not enough to report news.

TV news affiliates -- and some print-based media online -- now try to augment the good work of reporters and goose their Facebook traffic numbers by inviting followers to "sound off" or "weigh in." This is less vox populi than it is a blanket invitation to banter.

Media consultants tell TV and radio outlets they need to "engage" their audiences via social media. Thoughtful online discussions would be one way. But asking viewers to leave under-informed opinions on Facebook isn't engagement. This is simply filler. It upholds the tenets of news reporting not one iota. It neither informs nor enlightens. 

And the coarseness and veiled bigotry that often surfaces in viewers' comments -- often unmoderated -- cheapens the media outlet's brand. The comments at left came from a Facebook post about President Obama's taking part in a Memorial Day observance. Few of them reflect thoughtful discourse. More than a few are obnoxious. And there are far more repulsive comments to be found elsewhere on Facebook.

Should readers debate news stories in a public forum? Yes. Letters to the editor and public forums were the way it was done, 'til opinion sharing became the domain of Facebook. 

But "weighing in" doesn't deliver thoughtful dialogue. It often devolves into name-calling or worse. So asking viewers to weigh in reflects badly upon both the respondents, and the media outlets who resort to this form of engagement to boost their social media visibility.

We'd all be better served if they focused on reporting the news.