I saw a few comments this week that caught my attention. They give me a chance to catch my breath a bit and respond here.
One wrote: “Instead of these repetitive articles which ultimately don’t accomplish much (and frankly, encourage repetitive comments), why don’t you give it a break until/unless an actual proposal arises? Maybe write about something else, for a change?”
They followed up: “And frankly, how about a little less advocacy (regardless of subject matter)?”
Another: “The Vanguard is ‘less diverse’ due to the loss of a lot of the old posters.”
My belief remains: We actually write on a wide variety of topics – but some topics generate conversation on the Vanguard, some topics generate no conversation on the Vanguard but a ton of conversation on Facebook, and some topics generate no conversation but a lot of reads.
If you only view things through one set of metrics, you miss a lot of the big picture.
But we need to take a step back.
The question I think people need to ask is what are we trying to do – why did I create the Vanguard on July 30, 2006? The remarkable thing is that, while in many ways the original Vanguard would be unrecognizable, the goals are remarkably similar.
Here are the goals as I formulated them this week:
- Report on problems in the local political system
- Report on underreported stories
- Go into places that other media/reporters are not going
- Expose injustice in the criminal justice system
- Advance a community-based conversation on critical issues
The biggest complaints I hear are: The Vanguard is biased, the Vanguard is not journalism but advocacy, and the Vanguard is repetitive.
I would be curious to know if the articles that are straight news – i.e. not commentary or opinion – actually are biased. I don’t think they are. But I would be interested in that feedback.
Commentaries are supposed to be biased. I have opinions like everyone else. And they are strongly held. We have always tried to balance that by printing pretty much anyone else’s guest commentary. There are times we have sought out guest pieces. There are times when issues come up and they get submitted.
I don’t agree on advocacy. Commentary takes a position. I have views on politics and local government. But they are my views. If I were truly being an advocate, I would go beyond writing an opinion piece three or four times a week. I believe over the last three years, for instance, I spoke during public comment five times, twice because they were going to close down a program at my kid’s school and I spoke as a parent, once because Don Sherman and I donated a photo to the city.
I don’t endorse candidates, contribute money to campaigns, or work on campaigns. If I were really being an advocate, I would do those things because those are tried and true methods to effect change.
So what am I doing with sometimes a long series of commentaries on given subjects? Part of the goal of the Vanguard is to foster community dialogue on issues of importance. Over the years, we have had long series of commentaries and debates on things like criminal justice reform, race, immigration, policing, the budget, housing, economic development, school issues, and more.
Over time, what I have done is write a commentary, watch or sometimes (less so these days due to time) participate in discussions, do additional research and take ideas that were developed or things learned in the debate, incorporate and throw out some more thoughts for discussion.
As proposals come forward, conditions change, ideas come out, we add to them and over time we have a discourse. I see that as a core function of the Vanguard – community engagement.
Now unfortunately, because we have changed our posting rules over time, some of the subjects that generated good discussions are no longer doing so – like criminal justice reform and policing, for example. That’s unfortunate.
One of the reasons we shifted away from anonymous commenters was a general feeling that people over time have stopped commenting due to their presence. What seems to have happened, however, is a shift.
I must admit, I found it ironic that the individual making the comment on Monday evening of last week that we are too repetitive, basically stayed in that article and generated over 200 comments last week.
In the meantime, we covered a lot of new topics that did not generate many comments on the Vanguard.
But this week was a good illustration of the multiple purposes of the Vanguard.
There were a few articles that drew a lot of comments:
Last week’s Monday Morning Thoughts (an opinion column) generated 206 comments.
Friday’s Commentary on housing’s impact on the economy drew 87 comments.
Saturday’s My View (an opinion column) generated 49 comments
Sunday’s Commentary generated 37 comments.
Four articles – all commentaries – generated nearly 400 comments.
But the world of news and commenting is changing. The best illustration of that is: “300 Come to Davis to Demand Garamendi Help Close the Camps.”
Last year this article would generate at least 100 comments. This year: zero.
When you see articles not generating comments, start looking at another metric – “shares.” The article from Wednesday drew a whopping 484 shares on Facebook. That is someone taking the article and sharing it with their community on Facebook.
The post on Facebook, and I had two other shares with photos from the event in total, drew over 500 likes and over 500 comments from Facebook users. Left and right, people from Davis and out of Davis, people that have never commented on the Vanguard, were engaged.
The way people interact is changing – more and more it happens not on independent websites but rather within social media.
By Facebook’s metrics, the article reached thousands of people. The article also generated thousands of reads on the Vanguard itself. But no one commented on the Vanguard itself.
It marks a change, but in the end, as long as people are reading, does it matter where they comment?
My final point – as always, the Vanguard is a work in progress. We’re making a lot of changes and, by the end of this year, things will probably look a lot different.
—David M. Greenwald reporting