How online comments make politicians instantly more accountable – whether they like it or not

I took a fair bit of stick the other week when I wrote a post saying that I felt Trinity Mirror’s decision to require Facebook log in for people wishing to comment could be good news for journalists.

I still believe that’s the case – but that’s not why I’m writing about commenting again today, even though it involves a comment posted to the MEN site, and subsequently published in the newspaper.

Opening up comments on an article can lead to many positive things – if they are handled correctly. It can lead to people providing more information on a story, or maybe people taking a title to task for getting a story wrong (although when it’s your piece of work, it can be hard to take that as a positive!)

It can also help hold those in authority to account – in an environment they can’t control. A bit like the letters page, only instant.

Take this comment from the MEN for example:

simond

On one hand, Rochdale MP Simon Danczuk is commenting on how people are struggling to get by in Rochdale during the recession, but  according to the commenter, isn’t doing enough to criticise the fact council tax is going up in the borough by 3.5% – 0.9% of which is due to the Labour-run council.

On a personal level, it doesn’t surprise me that the Labour MP isn’t criticising his Labour council – one of my first experience of covering local government in Blackburn was a Labour councillor ringing me up to say he was complaining to the editor about a story which was critical of the Labour-run council. The councillor? One Simon Danczuk. Fortunately, the editor, Kevin Young, was so appalled by the pathetic way in which the Tories acted as an opposition in Blackburn with Darwen he saw such complaints as a sign we were doing our job.

That aside,  I think this is an excellent example of how opening up journalism to comment also opens up the subjects to scrutiny too – something we need to manage carefully to ensure it remains civil and fair … but still open to all voices prepared to abide by the rules.

 

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