STAFF NEWS & ANALYSIS
NY Times: 'Net Feedback Distorts Thought
By Staff News & Analysis - March 04, 2013

GRAY MATTER: This Story Stinks … In the beginning, the technology gods created the Internet and saw that it was good. Here, at last, was a public sphere with unlimited potential for reasoned debate and the thoughtful exchange of ideas, an enlightening conversational bridge across the many geographic, social, cultural, ideological and economic boundaries that ordinarily separate us in life, a way to pay bills without a stamp. Then someone invented "reader comments" and paradise was lost …Comments from some readers, our research shows, can significantly distort what other readers think was reported in the first place. In a study published online last month in The Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, we and three colleagues report on an experiment designed to measure what one might call "the nasty effect." – New York Times

Dominant Social Theme: Reader feedback is a plague.

Free-Market Analysis: The New York Times, like other mainstream publications, is struggling with reader feedback. More and more mainstream media limits feedback to articles, in our view – and this is partially because the feedback seems to be getting more and more vehement … and negative.

This editorial actually recognizes that trend and, in the tradition of other awful analyses, has found a study that explains why 'Net feedback may be bad: Feedback with a negative tonality tends to polarize conversations. Whereas an article might seem acceptable if the feedback is polite, when vitriol is introduced that same article is often viewed in a different light. Here's more:

But here, it's not the content of the comments that matters. It's the tone. We asked 1,183 participants to carefully read a news post on a fictitious blog, explaining the potential risks and benefits of a new technology product called nanosilver. These infinitesimal silver particles, tinier than 100-billionths of a meter in any dimension, have several potential benefits (like antibacterial properties) and risks.

Then we had participants read comments on the post, supposedly from other readers, and respond to questions regarding the content of the article itself. Half of our sample was exposed to civil reader comments and the other half to rude ones — though the actual content, length and intensity of the comments, which varied from being supportive of the new technology to being wary of the risks, were consistent across both groups.

The only difference was that the rude ones contained epithets or curse words, as in: "If you don't see the benefits of using nanotechnology in these kinds of products, you're an idiot" and "You're stupid if you're not thinking of the risks for the fish and other plants and animals in water tainted with silver."

The results were both surprising and disturbing. Uncivil comments not only polarized readers, but they often changed a participant's interpretation of the news story itself.

The assumption here is that the article is a civil one and deserving of respectful commentary. But when it comes to such mainstream publications as the New York Times, is that really so? As we have pointed out, and others, too, the Times is not just a publication of record, it is a publication that records what the US's top Intel agencies want it to. See here: NYT Reporter Confirms Paper Is Purposeful Mouthpiece for Military-Industrial Complex

Former New York Times reporter Daniel Simpson reveals much of what we've been presenting to you, dear reader, for the past three years. He confirms that the New York Times is basically a vast warehouse of manufactured, elite dominant social themes and adds that the CIA's favorite newspaper, The Washington Post, is as well. … This is not a hypothetical issue for newspapers anymore. The revelation of news manipulation, thanks to what we call the Internet Reformation, is hitting newspapers quite hard as regards the bottom line.

We can see it in this news story that appeared recently at TechDirt, entitled, "Newspaper Ad Revenue Fell Off Quite A Cliff: Now On Par With 1950 Revenue." This is just incredible! The industry has lost a half-century of revenue. This news is brought to us by economics professor Mark Perry who labels such a loss "one of those huge Schumpeterian gales of creative destruction."

We have pointed out that the peak of newspaper advertising corresponded to the initial availability of blogging software. After that, the decline took hold. Thus, the more blogs came online the less compelling the mainstream media became.

The New York Times may be a compelling paper in the eyes of some but it is without doubt a less compelling paper than it used to be. In fact, if the Internet had lost the kind of readership and clout that the mainstream media has mislaid, the story would be touted on a virtually non-stop basis.

But the 'Net continues to gain readership as the mainstream media loses. Ironically, one of the strongest features of mainstream news is the feedback queue. We've tracked it virtually from the beginning, well over a decade ago, and the transformation is startling.

Today, feedback queues are intensely literate in sociopolitical and even economic realms. Meme analysis (yes, we helped pioneer that) is prevalent and writers are adept at picking out whatever elite agenda is at work within the article.

It is an incredible problem for mainstream publications. If they cut the queue, it looks like they're hiding something (and they are). If the feedbacks are presented, the article is often eviscerated and its writer made to look foolish.

The New York Times itself has struggled mightily with this issue, removing feedbacks from some of its news reporting and trying to organize feedbacks via "Times Picks" to place the feedbacks that are the least objectionable before the rest.

In this article, it seems we can see the Times's editorial brain-trust trying out another tack, which is that feedbacks can polarize readers and thus can have a negative impact on what would otherwise be a rational ingestion of the Times's wise words.

In reality, it is the Intel agencies behind the Times that are probably the most inconvenienced by the feedback "problem." The mainstream media was once a dependable partner for the distribution of dominant social themes. But because of feedback queues, even the most well positioned article can be shredded in an instant by a couple of knowing comments.

It doesn't even help to cut the comments because readers may well read a similar article and be exposed to push-back that then makes the Times (and other papers like it) look as if they are hiding something. The Times is then apt to lose readers who will travel elsewhere to gain a wider perspective.

The Internet is a difficult environment for the mainstream media currently. And complaining about feedbacks or trying to cast them as somehow negative is a ridiculous ploy. The New York Times business empire not too long ago was worth some US$7 billion. But today after ruthless parings and buyouts it is probably only worth about US$1 billion.

After Thoughts

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