Does newscounter's right to reply really help communicators?

SimonGeneral



Newscounter is a new UK-based website with an interesting idea behind it.

In their own words it’s

a new right to reply service for people and organisations to respond to controversial press stories. This should
stimulate debate about public trust and the role of the media in society.

Newscounter editors scan the UK press and receive nominations from registered users – controversial or particularly newsworthy stories are then put live on the site.

Users can then petition for a response to a controversial story, read responses put forward by parties named in the original articles and then vote which side of the argument they think is most persuasive.

It’s an interesting concept – take for example this story about dog poo that appeared in the Daily Mail (can’t find it on their website). It has been voted to recieve a response, and newscounter has secured a response from the authority named in the story.

The story and response that are combined on the website certainly seems to present a more balanced version of the story. This is likely to help communicators when the tone of media coverage is typically negative to their cause.

Newscounter also tries to ensure that their version of the story/response ranks highly in search engines. If they don’t rank highly they say they’ll buy their way to visibility:

If the newscounter response isn’t on the first page, we buy google advertising to make sure it is.

Doing a quick Google (UK) search on the dog poo story suggests they’re not quite there with this part of the service yet – at the time I searched the story wasn’t in the first page of organic results nor the paid-for listings.

And here lies my main problem with newscounter: while the principle behind it seems fine, the fact that the story/response is disconnected from the original coverage means that its value as a tool for redress seems limited.

If a story appears in printed press, then an online response, however balanced, is of limited value as only a small proportion of offline readers are likely to track the story on the newscounter website or in web searches. The only way around this is for newscounter to secure large reader numbers that approach the readership of offline titles.

For stories that exist primarily online then there’s more potential for newscounter to make an impact. To be effective it needs to gain equivalent profile and readership to the websites or blogs that it seeks to counter.

From my initial glance a few ways that newscounter could use to do this would be:

  • Providing RSS feeds for stories covered and responses
  • Increase the profile of the titles in which original articles appeared to help search engine positioning
  • Ensure the site is covered by Technorati to help cover original articles in blogs

Organisations that want a right to reply have to pay as customers. Although it’s not clear what the newscounter charging structure is, I’d bet that most of the organisations on the site so far haven’t paid though.

As a communicator I’d be looking for some evidence of the effectiveness of this approach before committing budget to it. That said it’ll be interesting to see how it evolves over the coming months.

(image credit: raisinsawdust via flickr)