The Cyberbrains

Research and contemplation in new media

Standing behind what you print, even if you didn’t write it

Reviewing anything is a daunting task for a newspaper. Believe me – I know firsthand. After using a poor auto review Thinking in the sunfrom a wire service and losing our biggest advertiser at a weekly I helped I start, I don’t think I ran another review again. But newspapers and other media organizations cannot ignore reviews either. It’s fundamental to the community mission of providing objective information. Most importantly, if a news organization has the guts to run a review, it must stand behind it, no matter who complains – and in today’s converged age of journalism – no matter who writes it.

A case in point – The Columbia Missourian rarely writes reviews anymore. That’s why all of us citizen journalism watchers cheered when they began to include reviews from CoMoWhine and Dine, a local blog from five frequent diners who claim “the only thing we’re sugar-coating is the desserts,” in the weekly free circulation paper. The site deserves the publicity because its authors write some pretty good, and I think pretty fair, reviews. It’s the first place I go now before deciding where to eat in town. What I like about the blog, that I think it would be hard for a media organization to duplicate, is the reviewers divergent tastes. They review everything from fine dining to fast food. They differ on whether to hate or love the national chains or whether fast food is barely edible or ultimately satisfying. One of their contributors gave Arby’s 5 for $5.95 a glowing review (just don’t try to eat all 5 sandwiches yourself, Revee cautions).

CoMo Whine and Dine ended up in the Missourian after one of the student editors at MyMissourian found it and included it on the site’s list of local blogs. I saw its inclusion in the print edition as the culmination of what we’ve been preaching and how news organizations should handle citizen contributions. In most cases – and especially in this one – they deserve equal footing with staff content and equal support.

If news organizations are going to have the guts to run reviews from local blogs, their leaders also need the fortitude to stand behind them as if they were staff produced. If they don’t, there’s no reason to include or even solicit reader contributions. If the news business is truly going to embrace the audience members’ ability to supply their own content, their leaders can’t ever use the excuse, “Well, we didn’t write it,” as tempting as it might be when advertisers turn into bullies. This has already come up at least once at the Missourian.

How a news organization responds will demonstrate what it really thinks about its readers and their contributions. As more and more outlets solicit and publish reader submissions, it will be interesting to note what happens when the spaghetti hits the floor so to speak. As optimistic as I am about the new willingness to include comments or use crowdsourcing or add a “submit a story” link to the front page, I doubt most news organizations are willing to give the citizens the protection or the support they deserve.

That’s why, in my book, they’ll continue to lose readers to blogs like CoMo Whine and Dine, which can stomach the bad press and will continue to offer the critical commentary that news organizations are too scared to offer anymore.


March 16, 2008 - Posted by | From The Cyberbrains

1 Comment »

  1. Thanks so much for supporting our little blog. We’re thrilled people enjoy it and even better, are finding it useful as they make dining choices. None of us has anything to do with the restaurant industry, we’re just ordinary folks telling the good and sometimes bad (unfortunately) experiences of when we eat out.

    Comment by Robin Nuttall | March 19, 2008 | Reply

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