Mathew Ingram is the Communities Editor at the Toronto-based Globe And Mail, Canada's biggest newspaper. He's a traditionally-trained reporter, but he's got years of experience blogging and using experimental new services, so he has one foot planted firmly in each world. We interviewed Mathew as part of our first premium report, The ReadWriteWeb Guide to Online Community Management, where you'll find interviews and gleaned wisdom from 40 top experts in the field. The following is an excerpt from that interview that we thought would be of general interest to readers; it's about online community, transitioning from traditional to social media and it's about Twitter (what isn't these days?). We hope you enjoy it.
This is historically important stuff. "The transition from one-way to two-way media is not something that newspapers are used to doing," Ingram told us. "It's a big change."
This is such a big change and Ingram is doing such a good job of making the most of it that when Jennifer Preston was appointed the first Social Media Editor of the New York Times last month, several observers (us included) recommended that she look to Ingram's work for inspiration.
"The earliest version of community we had was comments on news stories," Ingram told us. "For anyone who runs a blog, you take that for granted; but for us, that was a big step. We were the first newspaper to do that in 2005. It crept up for us; there weren't that many people commenting. Now we're getting five, six, seven thousand comments a day. On good or bad days we can get up to ten thousand comments. [We're sure he gets help dealing with all of those!]
"I like to call that community 1.0 or 1.5, because they all just sit in a big heap at the bottom of the story. It's like a petri dish of a community; it's little micro-organisms that could become community. You see people who reply to each other, good and bad commenters who return, people who assist each other. One thing I want to encourage more is writers responding to comments and using comments as a resource. That's commenting 2.0, I think.
"Community is great because it makes people feel good, democratizes the process, but also delivers value. One of our writers wrote a story, and the comments pointed out that she only talked to one guy about one aspect of the story. She said 'I read the comments and thought F*!@ you. I wrote a story. Go write your own.' But then she admitted it was true, phoned someone else, and updated the story. For me, that's a gigantic win for us and for readers as well. That's where the feedback should be. "
"I've also seen a noticeable change in tone in comments and other interactive forums, like Coveritlive.com. As soon as someone from the paper steps in and makes a comment, the whole tone changes. If you just give people a blank wall and a spray paint can, you get a predictable outcome. But as soon as anyone says we should stick to the topic or knock off the personal attacks, it has a noticeable effect.
"Comments are the base level of interaction. I've been thinking of other ways to enhance that. We've got live blog, a wiki project, and hopefully we've got groups and forums around a particular issue.
"One of the biggest things we need to do is identify and encourage members of the community who are thoughtful, intelligent, and produce comments of value -- encouraging them to contribute more, elevating what they do and suppressing some of the noise. I'm hoping our new Web publishing system that lets people vote on comments will help with that. I'm trying to think of more ways to use the volunteer fire department principle. Identify key members, ask them to contribute more, and incentivize them. Making their comments look different, giving them a title, giving them different tools. There's no way we can moderate all these comments every day, and the only way to do it is take advantage of our community. I think a task or a goal helps a community gel."
Does the Globe use TwItter? It sure does. "I have been using it as a way to connect with people and push out features," Ingram told us. "You can pull Twitter feeds into Coveritlive.com. We did an Oscar one, an Obama visit, covered a shooting in the subway. I was looking for people commenting on Twitter on those topics, pulling in what people say. I've retweeted, approved users, or approved with hashtags. There is a surprising number of everyday people on Twitter; the Mayor of Toronto is on it. But something like that for raw information delivery is always going to be valuable. You may be touching only 1% or .1% of the population, but they are reaching ten times that many people."
Ingram's closing thoughts on the changing media landscape: "Sometimes you do things, like the policy wiki we set up to get people's input on serious issues, the first issue we got a lot of input on and the second one we got a lot less input on. It's the ghost-town phenomenon. Or they are talking about what you want them to talk about but someplace else. You can build a cool night club and tell people about it, but if people don't want to come, if they want to go to an empty warehouse, then that's what they are going to do. As a big media entity, we used to have the audience; now you have to win over an audience to pay attention to you. I don't know how to solve that one either."
Mathew Ingram is an active participant in conversations on Twitter about international media and technology; you can connect with him at @mathewi. Learn more about The ReadWriteWeb Guide to Online Community Management via this link.