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