How’s this for engaging your audience?

Hats off to Matt DeRienzo and the folks at the New Haven Register.

Not only were they bold enough to ask their readers about their commenting system, they threw open the doors and invited people in.

We all talk the good talk about engagement, and listening to our readers, but these folks were ready to sit down and take it.

It doesn’t matter that it was a small gathering – four people in attendance and more watching online – this was the company’s first step in asking readers what they thought of the Register’s new commenting guidelines before they came into effect.

There will be more opportunities for readers to voice their opinions on the guidelines, DeRienzo blogged today.  For him the forum revealed “a huge gap between newsroom, and audience perceptions.”

He heard from one reader, Yvonne Manning-Jones,  who has been so outraged by anonymous comments on the New Haven Register site that she started copying and pasting them onto her Facebook page, asking her friends if they should be supporting a business that acts as a platform for racist and hateful comments.

DeRienzo blogs:

Of course, editors and reporters have cringed over the nature of story comments like this for a long time. But hearing how it is viewed by and affects Manning-Jones brings home a sense of urgency that wasn’t there. Which raises the question: How long ago would the system have been changed if we had been out there listening all along? And how quickly would it have been addressed if the top leadership and ranks of the newsroom were not 97 percent white? (And yes, that is the actual ethnic breakdown of newsroom staff at the New Haven Register, which serves a city whose population is only 37 percent white.)

Absent a dialogue between editors and the audience about it, a perception has developed that the New Haven Register at the very least didn’t care enough about the racist comments to do something about it, and at worst actually endorsed them.

By hosting a public debate, and involving its audience in the creation of its commenting guidelines, the Register shows it is truly committed to engaging readers, and making them part of the product.

And while I’m a huge fan of social media, face-to-face will always trump the best Facebook page.

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