11 August 2021

What's your opinion about editorials? And your comment on our comments?

| Genevieve Jacobs
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Genevieve Jacobs

Region Media Group Editor Genevieve Jacob: Don’t swear. Don’t abuse people. Don’t say things that could get us sued for defamation. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

It’s a funny old thing, working for a digital news platform. We meet all sorts, we hear from all sorts and we come up against all sorts of ideas of what the media’s role should be.

One of Region Media’s great strengths is that we actively encourage and manage robust conversations across the whole community in a way that makes us quite unusual.

Sure, you can write a letter to the editor in a newspaper. Radio allows talkback callers and messages via text. But on digital media platforms like ours, we see every single comment from the general public, including quite a few we don’t share with the readers.

It can make for interesting insights into what people think is fit for publication.

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There are some simple, straightforward rules around the comments. Don’t swear, even if you stick an exclamation mark in place of the “i” in sh!t. Don’t abuse people, and don’t say things that could get us sued for defamation. We’d rather keep the company operating and everyone in a job so that you can continue commenting.

We won’t let you be racist, and you can’t use our platform to spread dangerous misinformation, although honestly held beliefs, vigorous debates and genuine differences of opinion are absolutely fine by us. But don’t try those anonymous email addresses – if you’re not brave enough to stand by your opinions with your own email address, then we won’t either.

Region Media is a wholly privately owned local company that doesn’t rely on the social media giants or the government for funding, so we make up our own minds about what we want to print. You can read our editorial standards here.

It’s also a great idea to read the article before you comment, especially on social media. We’re pretty familiar with angry questions about something that’s answered in the story’s first paragraph. Most often, other readers, in a more or less kindly manner, point out the bleeding obvious.

But we’re frequently even more puzzled by the comments on our editorials. “How about a bit of balanced reporting?” readers ask. “Pretty biased journalism here!” (usually, this means you don’t agree with the piece’s general direction).

They’re editorials. Opinion pieces. It says so in the green box at the top of the stories. They are not news reporting.


Was Gentleman’s call-in a stunt? Is Zed the worst? It’s a matter of opinion. Image: Region Media.

Here’s a definition: “An editorial is a short essay that shares an individual’s opinion on a current event or social issue. The goal of a good editorial is to persuade the reader to consider your perspective and change their opinion. Editorials often focus on controversial issues with widely different viewpoints.”

Our responsibility in the media is to provide balanced, independent, even-handed news reporting. But the key to understanding why editorials are different is encapsulated in the phrase “widely different viewpoints”. They’re like food or music reviews: nobody expects the restaurant critic to be neutral on whether the steak was overdone.

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Opinion pieces might come from an external writer or one of our staff who has something to say, on everything from politics to magpies. Journalists are allowed to have opinions. They should never allow those opinions to interfere with their straight news reporting – but that’s why opinion pieces and editorials exist.

They are discussion starters, places for ideas and arguments, for passionate conversations and widely differing viewpoints (just like your comments).

Please think before you comment, especially if you’re about to accuse someone of bias (although most old-time journos are familiar with accusations they’ve favoured one political side or the other – often in the same piece of reporting).

Canberra is a great place for opinions and most of us have plenty to say. Let’s do it in a way that genuinely furthers the debate because enabling vigorous discussions and differing opinions is a keystone of our democracy.

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Won’t be fooled again8:11 am 24 Aug 21

The opinion pieces in The Riot Act are generally excellent (I really like Ian Bushnell and Zoya Patel’s but they are all good). There is a fresh feeling about them. I like the way that the editorials range from local issues (which can sometimes be recognisable to people who aren’t locals) to international issues.

Comments pages are problematic everywhere. Pearls & Irritations recently stopped having comments because too many were defamatory or amounted to political trolling and the cost to editorial time weeding them out wasn’t worth it.

Stephen Saunders3:40 pm 11 Aug 21

SMH, Guardian, Conversation all claim pious “independence”, so can we please have your money? All censor or disable comments, as it suits them. RiotAct doesn’t do those things.

Hilariously, in an article which talks about people questioning things which are answered in the article, someone does that exact thing.

I quote from the article: “we see every single comment from the general public, including quite a few we don’t share with the readers.”

The message even comes up when you submit a comment that it is awaiting moderation!

Of course RiotAct censors or disables comments! As they state, if it is defamatory, contains abuse and/or profanity, and so on, then it may not be posted. The Conversation and The Guardian do the same thing. All commercial news or news-style sites do it.

I think the difference might be in the level of moderation or censorship that occurs.

Whilst RiotACT might moderate objectively abusive or defamatory comments, in my experience they are far less likely to do so that the other sites mentioned by Stephen.

Sites who often remove comments because they don’t fit the narrative or point out blatant factual errors in the articles.

Editorials are fine, even if I don’t agree with them. Moderated comments are fine too. Some good discussion goes on, even if it’s often repetitive.

The Facebook comments are terrible though – “oooh, 140 comments, this must be a good discussion”, followed by 138 versions of ‘did you see this dave’.

I like the comments which are often more thought provoking and revealing than the opinion piece, even if I disagree with them.
I don’t like Facebook comments that are just referrals to other people.
What I observe are fewer opinion pieces from the Greens now that they have been re-elected and share government with Labor, corporate property developers and the tram consortium.
Overall, it’s a good forum and thank you for it.

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