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Readers ignoring facts and heading straight to comments, says digital chief

Alison GowAn editorial chief has voiced concern over readers who “don’t actually read the facts” of regional press stories online.

Alison Gow, left, digital editor-in-chief for Trinity Mirror Regionals, hit out at what she described as a culture of “read the headline and then go straight to the comments” which she says has developed over the past two or three years

Alison told a Welsh Assembly inquiry into news journalism in Wales that what she called confirmation bias among readers has become a “big issue”, describing it as one of the “great problems” the industry faces.

She said journalists were “quite often” taking to their newspapers’ social media channels to correct readers about stories which they hadn’t actually read.

Alison and her Trinity Mirror colleague Alan Edmunds, were quizzed by the Assembly’s Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee on whether politicians understood the nature of the challenges face by regional journalists.

Alison responded: “The thing that worries me particularly is actually the way that the public mood has changed towards news, the false news and the misinformation and the kind of ‘read the headline and then go straight to the comments’ and the confirmation bias that has really started to become a big issue recently.

“It’s probably in the past two or three years where you find that people don’t actually read the facts. So, to come back to what you were saying about politics, actually, people will actively not read a story because they will have a view.

“For example, if you look at Facebook posts, you can see how the conversation becomes an echo chamber, and it’s really I think one of the great problems that we face is trying to burst filter bubbles around that and try and engage people in conversations.

“If you look at Wales Online, on Facebook, you probably see quite often that [journalists] will go in and say, basically, ‘That’s not what the story’s about. It’s this.'”

Alan, who is editorial director for Trinity Mirror Regionals, said there was a misconception that digital platforms offer “a less serious forum for news”.

Citing the example of the Wales Online website, he told the committee: “It won the website of the year in the Regional Press Awards, it was commended for its tremendous online coverage of the Aberfan anniversary, and the skilful way that the new content, some of the new interviews that had never been heard before.

“And I think the frustration is sometimes the sense that digital platforms are not suitable for providing great, serious journalism, because I think they can be.

“There are some fantastically talented journalists in our newsrooms, who are doing some amazingly clever things online, and engaging very well with their audience. And Wales has been at the forefront of that.”


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  • October 5, 2017 at 9:56 am

    Also true of national stories. Ignorance is such bliss for those with short attention span who seek attention in the fact-free world of social media.

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  • October 5, 2017 at 10:33 am

    It is 100% right, and I have read (most) of it. And I confess to being guilty of going straight to the comments – if only for a laugh.

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  • October 5, 2017 at 10:40 am

    Entirely true, but I can’t agree this is anything new. Anyone who has had to handle complaints will recognise the problem, wearily having to point out that [insert complaint detail here] is fully explained in the story, if the complainant would only care to read it.

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  • October 5, 2017 at 10:42 am

    It’s probably so very tempting to skip over the actual content of most Trinity Mirror Regionals’ stories online because they are so awful.

    The one I see most often, GloucestershireLive, is badly written, with atrocious spelling, poor grammar, a wealth of Americanisms and slang and seemingly no understanding of English punctuation.

    And then you have to navigate the page itself, with pop-ups ads, irrelevant links, unrelated video and other ‘interruptions’ in between almost every paragraph.

    Imagine watching the BBC 10 O’Clock News. Huw Edwards is seated in his normal spot and opens the bulletin, but a mystery man standing just behind him keeps shouting interruptions…
    Edwards: Tonight at 10, President Trump speaks out after the Vegas shootings…..
    Edwards: … as more details emerge about the gunman. Theresa May struggles through her Tory conference speech…
    Edwards: … but is defended by cabinet colleagues. Also tonight….
    Edwards: …we’ll have the latest on the campaign to reduce plastic waste.

    And so it goes on.
    You wouldn’t put up with it on radio or TV, so why does Trinity Mirror think people will enjoy wading through all the rubbish that surrounds and infests every single item on its websites?

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  • October 5, 2017 at 11:12 am

    Perhaps you could add a tick – ‘I have read and understood’ – box at the end of the article before allowing them to comments. Maybe verify names and addresses as well before allowing the green ink brigade on site. Oh hang on, didn’t we used to do that with letters to the editor when newspapers actually had editorial staff……..I’ll get m’ coat :)

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  • October 5, 2017 at 11:21 am

    Maybe readers would take the content more seriously if the newspapers didn’t post inane listicles and live blogging mundane events like the opening of a Weatherspoons. The Welsh Assembly should also have quizzed Alan about how the large scale redundancies and newspaper closures at TM have increased the challenges faced by reduced editorial teams expected to do more with the threat of unemployment constantly looming over them.

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  • October 5, 2017 at 12:49 pm

    Does anyone really think that, by comparison, typical print readers have ever read much more than the first couple of paragraphs before skipping to another headline or turning the page?

    Maybe not all, but the vast majority will read a bit, form an opinion and, if not that interested, will move on without being in full possession of the facts. They will then relay this inaccurate nugget of information to someone else later and, maybe, someone more informed will either correct them or not.

    Social media is simply expediting this age-old process and making it much more measurable for disheartened journalists. The ‘echo chamber’ of Facebook has always existed in some way whether it was down the local pub, at bingo night or standing in line at the supermarket!

    What this comes down to is your audience. Do you want to write shorter articles for a greater generic audience then allow them to debate it on social media; or do you want to write lengthy, informed articles for a niche publication where the limited audience wants more detail?

    You can see the dilemma here for businesses which needs to make money! Someone somewhere has to pay for either approach, whether its the advertiser or the user.

    What we really can’t do is moan about the audience we’ve chosen to write for. They are no different to how they’ve always been. It’s just now more visible to those writing the articles, but at least you have the opportunity to be part of that pub, bingo hall or supermarket conversation without leaving the office.

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  • October 5, 2017 at 1:22 pm

    Interesting, what law says newspaper sites have to have comments? Don’t like them turn them off! The reason most sites keep them is to keep page stats going. Despite the resources they drain. Comments are often the best bits of most articles. Also interesting is when papers turn off comments on their own site but allow facebook comnenting presumably so that if something libellous is said fb is culpable but not them…

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  • October 5, 2017 at 4:43 pm

    There is also the small matter of commenters completing the story after truly sloppy work by the journalists. There is a classic case in point: a nasty car crash in which four people died in Herefordshire last week. The actual site of the crash was given as a notorious crossroads two miles from the actual crash site, causing a lot of irrelevant comments from a lot of people about the crossroads in question. It was not updated for nearly three days despite masses of correct information being given by witnesses in the comments box.

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  • October 6, 2017 at 7:17 am

    “What we really can’t do is moan about the audience we’ve chosen to write for. They are no different to how they’ve always been. It’s just now more visible to those writing the articles, but at least you have the opportunity to be part of that pub, bingo hall or supermarket conversation without leaving the office.”

    Agree with most of what you say Oliver, but the readership has fundamentally changed because of the ownership’s obsession with rapid rises in audience growth. In print, you broadly knew your audience and knew it was local. Now the measures of success mean companies need and sometimes prefer a new, non-local audience. A couple of papers I’ve worked at have often had more online readers each month than live in the circulation area, but it’s still never deemed good enough.

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  • October 6, 2017 at 10:14 am

    ‘She said journalists were “quite often” taking to their newspapers’ social media channels to correct readers about stories which they hadn’t actually read.’
    Really! Don’t they have another story to write rather than f****** about correcting some f***wit’s misinterpretation?
    Sounds like a complete waste of a journo’s time to me.
    Do they run adult education classes too?

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  • October 7, 2017 at 10:33 am

    Fair point ‘Arry, but there’s little we can do about the current local business models while under regional ownership. I still believe it’s up to us to respond to or ignore people as appropriate on social media rather than moan about whether or not people read and understand our stories.

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