Tag Archives: flaming

Pick of the links (18 Nov-22 Jan 2009)

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Wrestling with online tone and etiquette

Being sort-of-flamed in a forum a while ago was a wake-up call to getting the tone of online writing right. It’s something I’m still working on and something subs, copy editors and writers moving into online work would do well to learn.

Because unless you’re actively writing for the Web – blogging, contributing to forums, commenting and so on – then the Web’s more natural, conversational tone and transparency won’t come easily. In fact, your writing may end up sticking out like an academic essay delivered on the radio.

I’m learning that one of the best things you can do to make a successful transition to online work is to take part in the culture of the Web – just as your readers do.

Writing a blog, making comments, joining a forum or discussion – these are all ways to join in and develop your online voice.

The problem for print journalists is that we’re used to operating in a vacuum. We’re used to telling the reader what to think in a one-way distribution of information that is forgotten as soon as it goes to press.

And too often, the reader has felt like a nameless, faceless entity summed up by market research as an ABC1 type.

Not so on the Web. Expect them to talk back and respond directly to the content you upload. And be ready for them to click through to you from Bratisalava or Boston as much as from Birmingham or Bognor. Cock it up or come across as superior (even if you are!) and you can expect a flaming for you and/or your brand.

Dan Gillmor (author of We The Media) says journalism is in the process of evolving from ‘journalism as lecture to journalism as conversation’. Which means…

Online editors need to be ready to engage at a grassroots level. We can now write in the second-person, ask direct questions, start debates and reply to commentors, critics and detractors.

Btw, don’t think having a site which with comments disabled lets you off – anything you publish can be linked to, commented on, blogged about or discussed openly for anyone to read, ad infinitum.

But get the tone right and the readers are more likely to buy into what you’re saying.

(For a commercial rationale on this, check out why being likeable online is an important business strategy. Being controversial brings in traffic but if you’re selling something it’s likeability that makes people want to buy.)

And if you do cock up? Don’t respond in anger. Be humble, be honest, apologise for getting it wrong, ask what they suggest doing and avoid tit-for-tat responses. People will usually forgive you for being an arse. Once anyway.

I’ve been flamed!

Came back from Turkey trip to find a simple journalistic request soliciting advice on solo travel on a travel forum drew more than 20 replies in just 24 hours. Fantasic! This is what the internet is all about, I thought: multiple viewpoints and multiple empathy; a conversation as opposed to a lecture; not just the advice and rantings of me, myself and I as a solo travel addict… But no. When I clicked through, what popped up was a flaming frenzy, with posters:

a) asking why the the hell they should share their travel tips with a journalist (er, because it’s an advice forum and I was requesting advice…)

b) implying I was there to nick their ideas (if anyone had posted anything useful I’d have emailed them offlist to request a name check or further info)

c) suggesting I was being “bloody patronising” saying that the idea of the feature was to encourage more people to go it alone: “We are going thanks very much!”

d) using the slagging off the original poster as a vehicle for wit (which admittedly one or two were) or for flirting (fer krissakes, get a room!)

e) just killing time and being purposely unhelpful – judging by the 3am timings of the posts.

I was left thinking this feels like revenge from the days of ‘journalism as lecture’. Now that anyone can respond to online journalists, it’s a bit like a mob mentality. I’ve seen other journalists flamed for posting feature requests online but it is nevertheless a useful tool of the trade – though in this case it was more a complete waste of time. Perhaps sites would be better off having a media requests section – or perhaps I should have played dumb and posted as a sockpuppet who encourages responders to feel superior and sorry for me by pretending I was a scared little girl and please would somebody help me.

Now THAT would be underhand and unethical.

Fortunately I posted exactly the same question on a forum for older travellers who were all very helpful. As for the flame thread, I batted back all the sour replies – but still no actual tips arrived. I suppose whenever and wherever flaming occurs, you can say goodbye to free speech because posters will fear getting on the wrong side of the mob. It’s certainly made me reluctant to post honestly in future. Anyone else come under fire on forums for being a journalist? I’d love to know!

PS Here’s a discussion on journalists and message board etiquette.