Guardian column: How to interact

My Media Guardian column today is a distillation of what I’ve been saying about the means and needs of interactivity. The beginning and end (who needs a middle?):

Interactivity isn’t easy. I must confess that when I wrote for large publications, I said that I loved my audience … but that didn’t mean I wanted to actually meet or talk with them. The people who reached out to me as often as not did so with crayons and crackpot conspiracies, and that helped set my view of interactivity. I think the same is true for much of mass media. The old forms of interactivity helped make us into – or rather, gave us an excuse to be – isolated snobs. The internet changed all that. Online, for the first time in my career, I developed eye-to-eye relationships with readers. And I learned to respect the knowledge, intelligence, goodwill and good taste of those I saw as a mass. I embraced interactivity with obnoxious fervour and would not stop repeating, “News is a conversation … ” …

Rather than restricting interactivity, I would find ways to expand it. The [Washington] Post already is a pioneer in linking to outside blogs that write about its stories. Such linking, I believe, can yield more productive conversation, since these people are writing their opinions on their own websites, under their own names, and not just lobbing anonymous snark grenades into comments. But papers should also stop thinking that the world revolves around them and what they write. Instead, they should listen to hear what the public is talking about that the paper is not writing about. And papers should make readers into collaborators – not just sending in photos from news events but suggesting and reporting on stories. Interactivity isn’t just a gimmick. It is a key to a new journalism.

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