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Twitter argument: Times Online under attack for asking for input

July 22, 2010

[tweetmeme source= ‘matt_parsons’ only_single=false]

A bit of a spat an exchange of views on Twitter between Times journalist Joanna Geary and Joe Turner about websites and communities…

Joanna had asked earlier today:

If you subscribe to thetimes.co.uk, you can be part of shaping our future by joining the Times+ Advisory Board http://bit.ly/cNxFee

This had obviously riled Joe, who later went on to sarcastically tweet the above (top image).

Ouch.

I think it’s fair enough that journalists seek guidance on their publication’s website. In a way it’s only a small step further than asking for letters – which you could hardly say is a means of sourcing free content. It’s a vital tool to help you gauge what’s really on your readers’ minds.

But I’m thinking this mini-row has erupted because the Times now has a paywall in place. Perhaps using Twitter (well and truly in the public domain) to help shape a closed-off website such as the Times Online goes against the grain of the web’s ethos?

I guess we’ll never know – unless you’re a Times Online subscriber.

RELATED POST: Comprehensive study into Times online paywall (please ignore the typo)

UPDATE: Apparently the advisory board members are paid for their time

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. July 22, 2010 8:40 pm

    In very general terms, I believe this is abuse – because it is hard to see how bloggers are going to get anything much out of the relationship. Joanna points to Lego as a case study for how brands interact with their consumers. However, I think there are some important differences.

    1. Customising and playing around with lego is part of the culture. People buy and mess about with it all the time – whereas the Times is expecting input which it will then display to subscribers behind a firewall.

    2. Having already shut the door on the vast majority of the blogosphere by even placing their blogs behind the firewall, it seems more than a little rich for the Times Newspapers to be seeking to re-engage. Err.. no, that isn’t how it works. The lego project seems much more open and utilises and supports the highly skilled lego customisers who contribute.

    3. If I have time and skills which I could use to make the Times a better website, there is every chance that I could use the same skills more profitably to make my own website/blog/news-site. I don’t simply because I believe that is the job of the journalists/designers/publishers at the Times. In contrast, lego is a physical platform and you’d have to go a lot of stages back down the line to redesign as flexible a system as they have. If you want to create 3d models using bricks, you pretty much have to use lego.

    More to the point, I don’t believe that there are people who really care enough to contribute freely (or at very low pay) to the Times website. I certainly wouldn’t, I don’t think I know anyone else who would. I suspect that this approach will therefore fail, and the website will quickly close the firewall as few sign on as subscribers.

    Of course I could be entirely wrong 😉

    • July 22, 2010 8:55 pm

      At its most basic level, Joanna is probably trying to reach Times subscribers (there are a few of them apparently) via Twitter.
      But at another level, yes it is abuse… Steve Keenan (Times Online travel editor I think) once told a travel blog camp that the Times Online openly asks readers to write for free, on the basis they get the kudos for writing for the Times’ website, and can promote their own blog. A lot of journalists in the room were very pissed off after hearing that.

  2. July 22, 2010 9:32 pm

    Hi guys,

    I think this conversaton may be veering away from a debate about the ethics of consumer panels. However, before it does, I want to clear up some points:

    1. The tweet was targeted at existing subscribers to thetimes.co.uk (I know there are subscribers that follow me on Twitter) and wasn’t meant as a tweet to try and recruit non-subscribers to the website.

    If it came across that way, I apologise. I should have made it more explicit. It should have maybe started with “Calling thetimes.co.uk subscirbers!” or “For thetimes.co.uk subscribers only”.

    It wasn’t aimed specifically at bloggers either, but to anyone who has a relationship with the thetimes.co.uk.

    2. Consumer panels are not unusual and exist for a whole range of directly paid-for and advertising-supported products ranging from haircare, to food, to toys, to media and many other things. They exist as one of tools businesses can use to directly engage with customers and to try and ensure their products meet their needs.

    Also, I’m not sure it’s about consultancy, or giving up expertise for free. I, for example, would love to sit on iRobot’s consumer panel. I would love to express my desire for them to have a mini-Roomba that can hoover crumbs off of table tops and then wash them. Would telling them that be free consultancy? I’ve got no idea how they go about creating it – that’s for them to worry about. However, I have a consumer need I think they’d be able to meet and, if they did, I’d be very happy.

    Finally on the recruiting side: this is not an entirely new venture for The Times. It is the continuation of something we have done before. Throughout the development of thetimes.co.uk we regularly consulted a panel of several hundred people who were all engaged in The Times as a product. So, I’m not too worried about Joe’s last point. 🙂

  3. Joanna Geary permalink
    July 23, 2010 12:23 am

    Oh, and Steve is travel editor of thesundaytimes.co.uk. Ginny Light is travel editor of thetimes.co.uk.

  4. July 23, 2010 8:23 am

    Take your point about the consumer panel, makes sense. Think the frustration comes from the paywall aspect, as a lot of bloggers can no longer see what’s going on at the Times, as they refuse to pay.

    However, the FT uses its blog to link back to paywalled content, so it’s also clever promotion at the same time.

    What’s the pay for being on the advisory panel? Does it cover the weekly subscription cost? If so, I’m in 🙂

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