Robert: [W]riting in any interactive environment is an act of leadership. Your words, your tone and your style not only inform your audience, they provide a model - an example - for those in the community who will write for that community, as well. And your silence creates a vacuum of leadership that others may fill.
Kevin: It’s really interesting the different responses I hear when talking about some high profile engagement-based comment sites. People in the media laud them as visionary, ground-breaking and industry leading. When I speak to members of the public, they call the same sites toxic, offensive and aggressive. I often joke that a lot of publishers engagement strategy is really an enragement strategy. Find the hot button issues of the day and push those buttons until they bleed.
Robert: Expecting readers to know how to react in an a new online forum is like expecting students to pass a final exam on the first day of classes, or a group of new hires to run a factory after clocking in on their first shift. And readers know that. Most of them, in my experience, look for some clues from the people already active in a community before jumping into their conversation.
Kevin: If you’ve ever been to a good party of dinner, the host brings people into the discussion. The host introduces new topics, and he or she makes sure that a number of voices and points of view are heard. Whenever I’m out at such a dinner, I come away feeling invigorated and better informed. Without journalists playing this role in our news communities, we’re not only abdicating responsibilities for the conversation on our sites, we’re missing a huge opportunity.
Robert: And that skill is as important within journalism in the 21st century as reporting, writing and editing have been in the past.
FJP: What is this? Robert Niles wrote an article at the Online Journalism Review about how journalists musts become online community leaders at their publications (http://bit.ly/gyaY3K). Kevin Anderson replied at Strange Attractor and added anecdotes of his own (http://bit.ly/iavP0k). We mashed it together as a conversation.