An interview with an anonymous blog commenter

One of the problems with the online space is the perception of distance and anonymity that it creates. It means that people often say things in ways that are harsher than they would in real life.

But do they even realise they are coming across that way? I’ve always wondered what the people behind the spikey comments on our blogs are like.

Richard regularly comments on The Birmingham Post blogs under the pseudonym “Clifford” and, it is fair to say, has developed quite a bit of a reputation as a curmudgeon. But, despite his criticisms of The Post, he has stuck with us even when we didn’t quite get things right.

For that reason I wanted to meet him and, I have to admit with some considerable trepidation, I invited him for a tour of our offices.

The man I met in reception could not have been further from what I expected – polite, erudite, passionate and engaged in local news. For his part, he was oblivious to the image he had been portraying to others online.

Of course the wider point is that those who engage on the internet need to remember there are humans behind the handles (or bylines) and try and think about how their comments might be taken.

However, I don’t see internet arcadia arriving any time soon, so I think it’s worth journalists seeing that not all aggressive commenters are always aware how they are coming across. It is not always personal.

Whilst with us at The Post, Richard kindly agreed to go on video and talk frankly about why he commented on the blogs and how he’d want to see the newspaper develop in the future.

Richard has also told me he is considering retiring Clifford and in future wants to comment online as himself.

In total the two videos come in at around 15 minutes long. I haven’t edited them much, as so much of what Richard said interested me and I wanted to keep it for future reference!

However, if you want to jump to a particular point, here is a guide:

Video 1 (above):
00:36: On how his comments were percieved by journalists.
01:53: On pseudonyms and putting personal details online.
04:48: On political coverage in The Birmingham Post.
05:49: On the development of Birminghampost.net.
07:00: On the need for web-first publishing (and why it won’t affect newspaper sales).

Video 2 (below):
00:19: Why scale is important in making a blog feel like a community.
01:36: What makes someone comment on a blog.
02:40: What blogs would work best on a newspaper website.
03:20: Why journalists should try and engage on blogs and not worry about bad comments.
05:42: On revitalising the Birminghampost.net blogs

13 thoughts on “An interview with an anonymous blog commenter

  1. “If it’s going to work, people have to work at it” is possibly the definitive statement on social media! Nice job both of you. Thanks

  2. Genuine and wonderful attempt to engage with your readers. Also it opens the debate about how much of interpersonal interaction is about body language, intonation, facial expressions etc.

    Perhaps, this is the limitations of blogs but then again you get all the aforementioned qualities with video.

    Richard proves that people do engage with the web in an intelligent and questioning way and not mindlessly absorb the information they read, see and listen to.

    Good job all round.

  3. Really good, brave of him to do it and you guys to ask him in. He’s got a lot right there, and I feel suitably chastised don’t think I’ve blogged on the Post site for a couple of weeks.

    what I found especially interesting was how little difference he saw between commenting and blogging (and too with commenting on a forum like The Stirrer’s).

    That’s something that you certainly wouldn’t see on a huge paper, nor a newspaper where the bloggers hadn’t been encouraged so much to get involved with the debate. So that’s to the Post’s (and your) credit.

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  8. hang on, how can I not have commented here before? How remiss of me!

    Anyway, this is quite possibly the finest use of social media in the news I’ve ever come across. It’s a brave, creative, brilliant and innovative thing to do, and I hope more journalists get to see it and get inspired by it to see the way social media builds bridges with the communities that are formed around newspapers, especially local ones.

    great to see you today. I just hope the Times realise who they’ve hired and give you some space in be just as innovative there…

    Sx

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