Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Online commentary: more than just noise?

Hello! I’m John Cannon, and I’m attending my first ScienceWriters conference on a NASW freelance fellowship. On Friday I’ll make the trek east from my home in California by car, plane, bus and train (I couldn't work in a boat ride) to New Haven.

I’ll be covering the discussion titled “The social web and online commenting: Making it work for journalism.” I've always said that I became a journalist so I could join and stimulate the broader conversation concerning our place in a complex world. Now, that conversation happens in real time, beginning as soon as a story is posted with the musings of inspired (or incensed) readers.

Online comments on my own stories have cut a wide swath – sometimes thoughtful, even suggesting new angles and avenues for exploration I hadn't thought of, and sometimes outright belligerent, from readers on the fringes of the discussion. Managing this real-time commentary can be a challenge. As journalists, most of us recoil at the thought of anything resembling censorship, but as is often the case on the Web, we also have to filter out the cacophonous noise to find the underlying melody. The panelists for this discussion, all experts on this issue, will help us work out the best way to harness this online commentary as a new tool to advance the conversation.

A snapshot of my background: Since beginning my freelance career a year and a half ago, I've written for publications including New Scientist, ScienceNOW, Bicycle Times, and Scientists without Borders. Some of my work is posted at my website. I’m a 2008 graduate of the UC Santa Cruz science communication program. Before that, I studied biology and philosophy as an undergrad, worked in labs and in the field studying everything from cytokines to sperm whales, and served as a Peace Corps volunteer in West Africa.

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