The Problem With Commentary Articles In Traditional Media

During orchestral labor disputes, there is no shortage of tactics employed by both sides to distribute static messages to the general public, but few can try your patience more than the conventional editorial commentary found in traditional news outlets. To be fair, the warring factions aren’t to blame here, they’re merely taking advantage of a third party communication vehicle to deliver their talking points; instead, the outlets are to blame.

newspaperFor those on the outside looking in, one of the most common byproducts during prolonged labor disputes is mounting irritation over a lack of responsiveness from all parties involved. Those suffering the most from work stoppages have little to no ability to engage either party in meaningful discourse; in its place, they have to chew through regurgitated talking points and one way communications.

But in a day and age when two-way social interaction is as common as fries with your burger, the phenomenon that is the contemporary orchestral labor dispute appears to be exempt. Overall, that’s a real shame since even though it is far from perfect, the practice of corporate accountability via social media blowback is a tangible force for positive change.

Why then do traditional media outlets allow representatives the opportunity to express their talking points in a relatively unedited format without also requiring them to engage in any ensuing public reaction?

Case In Point

On 2/26/2013, MPRNews.com published a commentary piece written by Lloyd Kepple, who in his capacity as a Minnesota Orchestra Association (MOA) board member was acting as a spokesperson for the MOA.

MPRNews.com allows readers to post comments and in exchange for that privilege, the reader must create an account and agree with MPR’s terms and conditions before posting. It’s an entirely reasonable exchange and helps foster a meaningful discussion environment while simultaneously marginalize trolling.

Kepple’s commentary post generated a good bit of comments (25 at the time this article was written) but nowhere in the discussion thread did Kepple or any other MOA representative (or for that matter official musician representative) respond.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that MPR requires commentary authors to actually engage with the readers they are attempting to reach. Therein lies the rub.

Simply put, failing to require commentary authors to engage with readers is tantamount to willful exploitation for commercial gain. Sure, the outlets want provocative commentary and they want readers to get upset and send in comments because it means more traffic and (hopefully) more revenue.

But in this instance, how does this policy help make the MOA labor dispute any better? Kepple’s article didn’t contain any new information; it was simply the latest repackaging of the same old talking points that have been circulated for the past several months.

How Things Should Work

Ever since the onset of comments and discussion threads, Adaptistration has maintained an Equal Time Guarantee policy that provides any individual or organization mentioned in one of its posts the right to respond in an unedited reply. However, in order to take advantage of what is a very generous policy when compared to traditional media outlets, they need to embrace the concept of two-way civil discussion.

In order to ensure accuracy and that every side to each issue is explored in detail, any individual or person officially representing an organization featured in an Adaptistration article is allowed to submit a response which will be published, unedited. Responses are limited to 200 words and must address the issues at hand and the individuals and/or organizations must also be willing to maintain an open dialog for continued discussion. In lieu of this option, individuals may opt for submitting a comment, which is subject to the terms above.

If you aren’t willing to examine, defend, and relate with your audience, then you have no business enjoying the exposure provided by media outlets.

Ultimately, if MPR didn’t encourage and accept comments, this would be a non-issue. But that’s not the case and rest assured, MPR is far from alone on this issue; in fact, I don’t know of a single traditional media outlet that allows reader comments and maintains a required dialog requirement for commentary authors (if one exists, I’d love to know about it and I will promptly correct this post to give credit where credit is due!).

Isn’t it high time you started demanding more from your information providers?

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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5 thoughts on “The Problem With Commentary Articles In Traditional Media

  1. Hi, Drew. I love you and your analysis. Thank you.

    “If you aren’t willing to examine, defend, and relate with your audience, then you have no business enjoying the exposure provided by media outlets.” Preach it from the mountaintops, brother!

    I also wrote an MPR commentary on the lockout back in January that proved to be quite popular. (If anyone wants to read it, it’s here.) http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2013/01/15/hogstad (If anyone’s curious, the MOA never made an effort to reach out to me to discuss or rebut.) Upon reflection, I should have submitted a comment to let people know I was following what was being said and that I was willing to engage peaceably with them. I will remember this in future.

  2. Great points, Drew! Everything you say is true… and it would be phenomenal if as a requirement for posting an editorial, that writer had to answer to any questions posted as a result of that editorial. However, I won’t hold my breath on this happening anytime soon. In the meantime, we in MN who are outraged by the lockout of the MN orchestra musicians will keep refuting the MOA’s talking points through every means possible. Thanks to people such as you, Emily E Hogstad (and her Song of the Lark blog http://songofthelark.wordpress.com/), as well as many people communicating via Facebook, we WILL hold MOA accountable for this travesty and find a way to bring our musicians back.

  3. This is the big difference between web-first media like Adaptistration and newspapers that have websites. They see the internet as a distribution technology rather than a [buzzword alert] platform. The web isn’t like paper that lights up and has popup ads, it’s a fundamentally different thing. Unfortunately, treating it like a fundamentally different thing costs A LOT more than treating like paper that can yell at you.

    I usually mock people that call themselves “social media consultants,” but I suppose this is why those kinds of people exist (that and skinny jeans). There are too many information professionals that grew up in dead-tree journalism that simply don’t understand the web.

  4. I have mixed feelings about social media consultants only because their opinions on issues like this vary greatly from one individual to the next. In general, it’s best if an organization can identify someone who not only understands but acknowledges issues like this and can walk a client through the pros and cons. Mark van Bree has written about this quite a bit along with some first hand examples over at The Dutch Perspective.

  5. You’re right. My knee-jerk reaction is to mock, but Mark makes an excellent case. I was thinking about your post some more this morning, and I think requiring authors to participate in the overall conversation could also have an impact on the civility of that conversation.

    Everyone is trying to find ways to make Web comments more civil, notably attaching comments to real names (Facebook/Google+ logins). But I think the expectation that the person who wrote the article will actually read your comment and respond might limit some of the YouTube-comment-worthy writing. There will always be trolls, but I think this, in combination with a real-name policy could help. I know I think about my comments here on Adaptistration differently because I have learned to expect you (Drew) to read them and probably comment on them.

    In a situation like that in Minnesota, maybe some of that civility could even be contagious. Perhaps that’s hoping for a bit much.

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