Sunday, July 20, 2008

Un-Elevating the Conversation

Winston Churchill famously said that "democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried."

For that and similar reasons, I have a philosophical tendency to support unrestricted participation in political and other discussions. I have believed that a full participation in discussion will result in the best solution - and certainly a better solution that if the discussion were limited to a set of pre-selected elites.

You can put this philsophy in practice via politics, with an emphasis on unrestrained voter participation (and in giving the District of Columbia the right to vote for Congresspersons and Senators, regardless of the fact that I might not care for the outcome).

You can put this in practice via the business or education world, via the practice of crowdsourcing. Over the last year, I've witnessed several attempts to harness the wisdom of the Twitter or FriendFeed population to produce a solution, one example being the Super Bowl Ads discussion organized by Jeremiah Owyang.

And, theoretically, you can put this in practice via textual adjuncts to traditional media. Theoretically, message boards or blog comments associated with a radio or television station, or with a newspaper, can yield valuable insights from the listening audience that can be used to improve the station's broadcasting.


Last night, I noted how a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel blog announcement of the use of Twitter degenerated into a series of blog comments about how useless Twitter was: "empty drivel," "something intended for 12 and 13 year old girls to talk about how tough algebra is and talk about cute boys," etc.

Dana Franks (Twitter/FriendFeed user ariedana), who presently works for WAAY TV in Huntsville, Alabama and who also discusses entertainment news at Mediascribbler), provided some additional insight via a Disqus comment. This is part of what she said.

This is something that's very unfortunate that I have seen and dealt with at another TV station I work at, but at least one out of five commenters at news sites are there to rabblerouse, complain or generally just try to make a Web journalist behave badly. That number goes up drastically on stories about race, politics or a story about something happening in a part of a city that is stereotyped by the other parts of town.

Rest the rest of her comment here. (I'm hoping that she'll address this issue in more detail, either on Mediascribbler or her personal blog.)

Which brings us to Petros Papadakis and Matt "Money" Smith, co-hosts of an afternoon drive sports radio show here in Los Angeles on KLAC radio. One afternoon while I was driving home, they spent an entire segment detailing their negative assessment of the comments that are posted on the show's message board. Smith stated that he occasionally responds to the comments, while Papadakis doesn't respond at all.

Even though I have an AM 570 All Access account, I confess that I go there very infrequently. I guess that Tracy Simers' departure has still left a hole in my heart. So, while writing this post, I figured I'd do a non-scientific survey of the posts on the message board to see what quality, or lack thereof, can be found.

Perhaps I can start with the thread that Billy Pilgrim started on July 19:

Petros isn't going to keep up with sports happenings while on vacation?

How is this any different than what he does when he's not on vacation?

Cousin Calvin came to Papadakis' defense:

Are you jealous that Petros has a life and you don't? There is more to life than sports. Maybe you should take a trip to where the 10, the 210 and the 57 meet, and enjoy yourself a little.

(See my previous post on the 10/210/57. Not that it's much better than the stuff on the boards.)

And I'm not even going to look at the thread having to do with one of the show's advertisers, SICK OF "ANDREW" FROM BOSTON MEDICAL GROUP. (And yes, that was in all caps.)

After a little bit of searching, I found a post that appeared to consist of some real sports analysis. Needless to say, it had no responses.

QUESTION: Am I wrong in my assessment that unrestrained participation yields valuable information? Or do the aforementioned newspaper blogs and TV/radio message boards suffer from having TOO FEW participants?

I welcome your comments.

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