Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Should readers have more control over newspaper websites?

A few days ago I asked Aren't We All Journalists? and had a response I thought was very interesting.
Essentially, Captain Mac asked if I thought there should be a place on newspaper websites that people could fill themselves? He suggested a "whole section - that people could write stories on, reviews, opinion pieces, list events, drag in links from other sites etc".

So I started wondering: Why would people use our sites when they could easily set up a blog (or a website) themselves and share their views, reviews, events or whatever? Also, how many regional newspapers in the UK already have relinquished some control to readers?

Personally I can't think of a good reason why regional newspaper websites couldn't host, for example, wikis for people to use for sharing information, links, advice or events? While alternative sites will certainly exist on the web we'd have nothing to lose in offering similar. And given the trust that most newspaper brand names still retain (despite dwindling print sales) they should have a good chance of succeeding, if nurtured and promoted well.
And even if such sites didn't capture the public imagination, we would at least have tried out a new idea and given online users the choice, instead of simply 'managing' the information ourselves.

Why shouldn't we hand over more control to users? The LFC and EFC Banter sites on the Liverpool Daily Post website do that now to a certain extent and, despite being launched only a few weeks ago, are hugely popular. Of course, you could argue that football fan sites are a special case - but look at the Evening Gazette on Teeside with its award-winning hyperlocal sites where content is directly uploaded by more than 150 community bloggers.

The beauty of online newspaper sites is that most ideas go from conception to reality in a short space of time - sometimes just hours. How long does it take to add a new section to the printed paper? It can take months - and occasionally a good idea suffers a lingering death-by-committee.
So I'd have to say the redoubtable Captain Mac makes an excellent point with his response and my answer would have to be yes, I reckon there is. But that's just me... I'd love to know what others thought.
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