A Journalist Who Doesn't Care About Reader Feedback

Posted on January 14, 2007

Not all journalists are embracing the idea of interactivity. L.A. Times journalist Joel Stein wrote in a recent column that he is not interested in reading readers' opinions or responding to anyone's email.

I get that you have opinions you want to share. That's great. You're the Person of the Year. I just don't have any interest in them. First of all, I did a tiny bit of research for my column, so I'm already familiar with your brilliant argument. Second, I've already written my column, so I can't even steal your ideas and get paid for them.

There is no practical reason to send your rants to me. If you want to counter my opinion publicly, write a letter to the editor. If you want me fired, write a letter to the publisher. If you want a note back, write a letter in lipstick on the bathroom mirror. Or you could just write mean things about my column on some blog. Don't worry, I'll see them. I have a "Joel Stein" RSS feed that goes straight into my arteries.

But don't make me feel like you expect a return e-mail. Because this takes my assistant four to five hours every week. I know this because my assistant is me.

Stein's email is on his column but there is not much point in using it.

That address on the bottom of this column? That is the pathetic, confused death knell of the once-proud newspaper industry, and I want nothing to do with it. Sending an e-mail to that address is about as useful as sending your study group report about Iraq to the president.

EdRants.com says Joel Stein needs to adapt to interactivity or perish but Joel Stein can probably continue ignoring reader comments providing traffic to his column doesn't drop. One Man and his Blog explains this point.

Of course, the crucial point here is not what he wants to do, it what his readers want him to do. If they're happy just reading him and not maintaining any sort of dialogue, Stein, and journalists like him, will still have a job in five years. if the audience decides that dialogue is something they want, he's in trouble.

If Joel Stein is driving traffic to the newspaper's website they are unlikely to crack down on his firm stance against reader feedback. Stephen Baker at Blogspotting points out that Joel Stein did manage to get our attention.

But you know what? It took a column like this to get Jeff Hess and many of the rest of us to read Joel Stein. He got our attention. I enjoyed the article, because while there's plenty of good conversation in blogs, there's also lots of empty and pious bleating about conversations. The conversation has grown at super speed into an article of faith, an orthodoxy. It's good to have someone give it a good kick--even if he's not going to benefit from or respond to our insightful, passionate and provocative responses.

Benedict Brogan writes, "The Guardian have helpfully reprinted an excellent column by Joel Stein of the LA Times in which he takes on the current orthodoxy about journalists using the Internet to converse with their readers. His message is fairly blunt: I'm not interested. I'd email him to applaud him, but he doesn't want me to."

It is unclear how far interactivity will go and whether newspaper columns and blogs will require comments, social networking features, trackbacks, skype, etc in order to sustain a solid readership. Mashable reports that there are now even video comments available. Flikzor is one company offering a video comment widget. We know Joel Stein will probably hate video comments them but they might be popular on some blogs. In the end it is traffic that will determine what types of interactive features blogs and newspaper columns must have. If newspaper columns suffer from diminishing traffic by not having interactive features then more newspapers are probably going to insist that their columnists use them and interact with readers.