Writing as conversation


Oh, interactive news, how I love and hate thee. When you are at your best, you can fuel wonderful, insightful conversations on multiple platforms. When you don’t, you fuel nonsensical diatribes in comment sections, mean spiritedness on social networking sites, and, at the very worst, hatemail. 

I’ve been writing for TC Daily Planet since the spring of 2008, and I still don’t feel like I know the secret to creating those magical stories that get people talking.  Sometimes my favorite stories get absolutely no feedback — nobody comments on them, nobody links to them, nobody responds in any way.  Did the story not interest people? Or was it just that it was fine to exist on its own — for people to read or not, without raising any issues? 

While I feel that, ideally, the best discussions would happen in the comment section of the article itself, this is often not the case.  More often, I’ve found some great discussions occur on Twitter and Facebook, which is a major reason why I keep up with those sites despite my misgivings about privacy (see last week’s column). 

Sometimes, articles I’ve written actually inspired people to write counter-articles, which I think is great, even if I disagree with them.  And the best case scenario, I feel, is when people don’t just comment on articles but carry out discussions in their daily life — over the breakfast table, at the bar. Isn’t that why we writers do this in the first place?

The latter two examples, of course, happened before there was ever interactive news. I wonder if live conversations about the news have diminished or increased since news has gone online? I imagine some sociologist did a study about it at some point. 

In the last year or so, I’ve been getting more email responses to my writing, and honestly that’s the most difficult to keep up with.  Emails range from informing me I made some mistake (like spelling someone’s name wrong — it’s true, it’s been known to happen), or that I’m a terrible writer, or that I got it spot on, or they suggest different follow up stories. 

I try to respond to everything, except that I ignore very mean-spirited emails.  Sometimes, I’ll call in my editors for help, but usually I’ll write back and in some cases have had great conversations over email.  This all takes time and on certain days I’ll spend more than an hour just dealing with responses to one article.  When I get really busy, I can’t quite keep up with everything and to anyone that I owe an email, I am sorry, but I’m only human. 

I think, as a whole, all this interactivity is a good thing.  It keeps writers honest, it makes news writing more of a conversation, and, I hope, it also makes readers more engaged. So keep those comments coming, people.