While it seems that social networking sites have become an integral tool for journalism and in the media these days, it’s quite extraordinary how the New York Times has adopted ideas to make their news website more socially interactive. An article from Poynter reports that the New York Times has come up with a new commenting system that gives commenting privileges to “trusted commenters,” where privileges include having their comments on a news article posted online publicly automatically without being first filtered by a moderator.
So, what is a “trusted commenter” again, and how can a reader become one?
The New York Times has an FAQ page on “trusted commenters,” in which the terms and conditions for becoming one is stated. A “trusted commenter” is defined as someone who may “enjoy the privilege of commenting on articles and blog posts without moderation,” and are invitational only based on the record of a reader’s “high quality comments,” as stated by the New York Times. Poynter also reports that readers who want to be a “trusted commenter” will have to submit and verify real names, upload a profile photo and state their origins or hometown. While this feature was eventually brought to an end, the New York Times had also created a feature called TimesPeople Beta in 2008 which allowed for each subscriber to “follow” one another, read the content each person has read or recommended and the reviews they posted. Each person was allowed to select which New York Times reader or subscriber they want to follow.
Is this reminiscent of Facebook? And is that what the New York Times is trying to emulate?
Apparently not. An earlier Poynter article from this past August clarifies the intentions of the New York Times in making their site more interactive. Marc Frons, the chief technology officer for digital operations, was quoted as saying:
“It has to do with increasing the sense of identity and reputation on the site, making it easier to find your social actions and follow others. At the same time, we want to be smarter about encouraging our best commenters, our best contributors, and figuring out how to recognize them on the website.”
This proves that the role of the reader over a newspaper or news site certainly has increased rapidly. Last year, AOL developed an algorithm to calculate and gauge which articles people are reading and how readers respond to the news. This obviously has a large effect on what kind of news gets published, as readership is a high priority of most news sites along with quality journalism. However, the point to focus on is that readers are indirectly dictating what the news will be.
While it is undeniable that reader feedback is important in the outcome of a newspaper’s content, just how much of a reader’s opinion should affect or determine what the news is? And to a certain extent, is the role of an editor in deciding what news should be run being diminished?
It seems that there is now a larger emphasis on the reader in shaping the face of newspapers and websites than there ever was before. Readers have a significant influence on what news pieces get reported. They are encouraged to comment on news pieces to provide debate and feedback to the journalist. In regards to the New York Times, readers get to have their name and face on the website when they become trusted commenters, not unlike having a reporter’s byline. All these seemingly elevate the status and role of the reader to make them feel included while reading the news and to be part of a virtual community.
In many ways, social media has certainly shifted some power from the editors to the readers in determining what defines news, as seen in more news sites taking on interactive features to keep their readers interested. News sites today are becoming more sensitive to what readers want, and try their best to cater to their needs, raising questions about whether the priorities of a newspaper or news site has changed, and what it means to be a reader or contributor to the news.