Live chat transcript with Columbian’s web team

Published: readers join the Columbian’s web team to chat about their roles at The Columbian and what changes have been made to the website.

If you have any suggestions for the website, or topics that you would like to see on our live chat email our social media coordinator Matt Matt Wastradowski at

Live chat transcript May 27, 2012:

Setareh Alizadeh: Welcome to today’s live chat! We will be joined by Web Editor John Hill and Social Media Coordinator Matt Wastradowski momentarily. Send in any questions or comments for our live web chat team and be the first to chat with them.

Setareh Alizadeh: Hey Matt, are there any changes that have been made to the website?

Matt Wastradowski: The biggest change is that John Hill recently took over as Web Editor! Beyond that, we’re working on a few cool projects that should be unveiled in the next few weeks (we hope, anyway!).

Setareh Alizadeh: How long has John taken over as web editor?

Setareh Alizadeh: Is he new to the news team?

Matt Wastradowski: John officially started on Monday. I think he’s trying to log in right now, and I’ll let him answer the second question. 🙂

John Hill: Hello, Setareh and Matt.

Setareh Alizadeh: Hello John! Thank you for joining us today.

John Hill: You’re welcome. I’m happy to be here.

Setareh Alizadeh: John, are you new to the news room?

John Hill: No. I started here in 1995 as the systems editor.

Setareh Alizadeh: Wonderful! Are you excited to take on the position as the web editor?

John Hill: Yes. Very excited. I’ve been playing a supportive role for a long time so I’m excited to be on the front lines now.

Setareh Alizadeh: What are some of the roles that you and Matt take on for the web team?

Matt Wastradowski: I work on the social media side of things — I run our Facebook and Twitter accounts, moderate comments, solicit user-generated photos/videos, and help reporters make the most of social media (Twitter, especially).

Setareh Alizadeh: How long have you been the social media coordinator?

Matt Wastradowski: About 13 months now.

John Hill: My primary roles include 1) working with the newsroom to ensure that our breaking news gets posted and updated; 2) working with the development team in IT to roll out new features on the site (and mobile site and apps) and fix things that aren’t working as they should and 3) helping to shape the strategies and initiatives we develop to help the company reach a wide audience.

Craig Brown: Hi John: Though this is a new job title, you’ve played a huge role in the development of since it first started. Can you talk a little bit about web comments, and how the requirement to use Facebook or other social media has improved them?

John Hill: Hello Craig. Sure thing.

John Hill: For years we allowed anonymous comments, though people could divulge their names if they wanted to. While we had many comments that were constructive and engaging, we also had our fair share of commentary that one might describe as uncivil.

John Hill: About a year ago, after countless hours of discussion internally, we decided to switch to Facebook’s commenting tools to facilitate discussion on the site.

Craig Brown: Thanks, John. As someone who has to sometimes patrol these comments, it seems like the quality has improved. It’s also worth noting that the comments can lead us to news stories.

John Hill: Our thinking was that hopefully we’d see a big decrease in nasty commentary on our site if people were using their Facebook personas to leave remarks. And that’s just what happened, though we still get a few comments that need to be removed and users that violate our community guidelines and need to escorted off the premises.

John Hill: That’s great to hear, Craig, especially that they sometimes lead to stories. That is something that’s gotten quite a bit of attention or buzz in the industry the past few years as social media has exploded in use. The term that gets used is “crowdsourcing.”

Matt Wastradowski: I just wanted to add a couple of tidbits. We recently conducted a survey of site users and had more than 1000 responses. More people are reading the comments now that they’re a part of Facebook, and most feel that the quality of comments has improved. So that’s encouraging.

Setareh Alizadeh: Will other social media outlets be used, or will Facebook be the ultimate tool for leaving comments?

Matt Wastradowski: Right now, Facebook is the primary commenting tool. We do have a forum on our site where people can leave comments without using their real name ( but Facebook is the only way to comment directly on stories. We haven’t had discussions about switching systems, but never say never.

Craig Brown: One thing that has always puzzled me about the Web is that the stories with the most views are the kind we tend to run inside the newspaper, such as routine car wrecks or arrests. Are the web and print audiences different, or should we put the car wrecks on Page One and what we consider to be the “important news” about government and taxes inside?

John Hill: Good question, Craig. That’s something people have debated for some time. Do we serve up the stuff that people apparently want to read or do we give them stuff we think they want? Steve Jobs would’ve argued that people don’t know what they want until they see it. I’d like to think there’s some truth to that with news. I think it’s best to balance the coverage. The beauty of a newspaper is that serendipity one gets. You end up reading things you might not have read.

Mike Rogers: Who is your favorite web developer on staff?

John Hill: Mike, I’m glad you’re here. Everyone needs to know that it’s you that built that sweet mobile site —

Craig Brown: You know we love you, Mike. Also Eric Florip’s wife sent homemade chocolate cupcakes if you want to come get one. She is a professional pastry chef!

Strother Thrush: Could it be that readers use Columbian for local/regional news/press releases and other sources for national/international news and analysis?

Mike Rogers: I didn’t get fat by turning down cupcakes!

John Hill: Hello, Strother. Our strength is certainly that we are the local paper of record and we focus heavily on what’s going on here because that’s our bread and butter. Do people go elsewhere for national and international news? Probably, though we do provide some of that in the paper and on our site.

Craig Brown: I think Strother is exactly right. Though we try to offer a variety of news, we believe our franchise is local news and information. There are a lot of places to find out about the war in Afghanistan.

John Hill: Mmmm. Chocolate. Mike, you should try one. They’re ridiculously good.

Strother Thrush: I was responding to Craig’s comment at 11:30 about stories with most views.

John Hill: Strother, while we have you. What is it you’d like to see more of on our web site? What do you like and dislike?

John Hill: Are there any chat topics or local guests that people would like to see in the future?

Strother Thrush: I follow your reporters on Twitter so I tend to check out articles after they have posted a reminder. I always check Forums for links and discussion.

Strother Thrush: I would like to know more about the 30 [?] non profits that are housed at US Digital but not until after November.

Craig Brown: That’s a good story idea, Strother. We wrote briefly about them as part of a bigger package about US Digital owner David Madore a while ago, but haven’t looked specifically at them.

John Hill: Thanks. That’s good to know, Strother, re your using Twitter to follow our reporters and coverage. I use Twitter myself to follow a lot of news orgs outside of the area.

Strother Thrush: Will you be reviewing FB comments more closely as we get closer to election? Last year someone wrote that Larry Smith gets two votes on Council because he is Mayor Pro Tem. How many saw that & thought it was true?

John Hill: What do you mean by more closely? Do you mean, will we be quicker to pull comments that are out of line with our community guidelines, or do you mean that we’ll fact-check the comments? If it’s the latter, then the answer is no. We simply do not have the manpower to fact check comments. We wish we did, but we don’t.

Matt Wastradowski: We are lucky enough to have public officials and other posters with knowledge of different situations who will correct posters when they’re wrong or clear up misconceptions. So having their contributions helps immensely.

Setareh Alizadeh: Looks like we are over our time. Thank you to all of our readers today. Thank you especially to our web team who joined us today. If you have any other suggestions or topic ideas for John Hill or Matt Wastradowski email

John Hill: Thank you, everyone. And thank you, Setareh, for hosting.

Setareh Alizadeh: Until next time, have a great weekend and a wonderful Friday!