FT.com Looks To Readers For Leader Column Inspiration


imageNot content with inviting readers to debate in a virtual pub, The Financial Times is now asking them to join senior writers in a kind of digital editorial conference to help shape the content and tone of the paper’s leader column. Starting today, leader writers will be posting articles on a chosen topic at the site’s new Arena blog each day this week with the best reader comments being published alongside it. Reader comments won’t be published in the newspaper, but writers will respond to the best comments in the op-ed pages next Monday. This week’s rabble-rousing theme is the 50 percent top tax rate for high earners as introduced in last week’s budget, which is probably of more interest to the readership of the FT than that of other papers.

FT.com’s managing editor Robert Shrimsley told me: “This has been one of the most secretive parts of the news organisation and was kept very much internal. We like to believe we have an educated and informed readership and we’re interested in their views.” He added that while many sites’ editors encouraged readers to add comments to blog posts and news stories, “you get the sense that they are not reading them”. The paper claims it is “pulling back the curtain on one of the least visible parts of a news organisation” by letting readers see how its editorial stance is created and letting them join in the debate More after the jump…

It’s an attempt to bring readers into the debate — but it stops short of some of the lively, informed and instant debate between journalists and readers that happens elsewhere on FT.com. The editorial team will choose which comments to post alongside its professional writers’ articles on the Arena blog, and readers’ comments will only inform the tone of the final, printed leader. Compare that to the site’s Markets Live blog, where readers’ questions are answered in real time and well-informed and entertaining comments are added to the main liveblog stream. But you don’t buy the FT for UGC; readers pay for expert news and opinion, and FT.com is one of the few news sites that charge for content. So maybe if its model isn’t broke, Shrimsley and co aren’t keen to fix it too much.

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