Why internet comments are better than vox-pops

I posted the following on Interhacktives.com last month. To see the original article and the comments left: http://www.interhacktives.com/2012/11/05/why-internet-comments-are-better-than-vox-pops/

John Robinson blogged a couple of days ago about “sticking a fork in ‘man-on-the-street’ interviews“ aka vox-pops. To take his point a little bit further, this pooling of public opinion feels increasingly outdated now readers can choose the issues they want to comment upon.

Vox-pops contain a degree of fakery, in so far as the person whose thoughts are being filmed/recorded is aware that they need to sound somewhat informed and intelligent. The people in the Jimmy Kimmel clip linked to by Robinson take this to its end-point, offering seemingly informed opinions on an event that never happened.

In my experience of being vox-popped – I was once quoted in the Daily Mail after attending a medieval food tasting (see the final line), I have been called on to offer opinions on subjects I would not care to comment on. My answer to the Daily Mail journalist on what I thought about the food is tellingly glib.

With internet comments, and I mean that in broadest possible sense with Twitter etc. included, there is a participatory element. The reader wants to add their own voice to the mix and potentially get feedback from the writer. The reader has made a choice to invest their time in your content, not been stopped on the street and had a question forced upon them.

Of course, artificiality – as any ethnographer would tell you – is relative and trolling shows that comments are not always the place to go for genuine opinions. It’s also worth saying that a creative approach to vox-pops can be really effective. However, my gut instinct is that spurring a reader to comment rather than requesting it on the street is usually a far more effective way of getting them to keep reading your work.

***UPDATE*** 01/012/12: Yesterday I was vox-popped by a student journalist asking whether I thought Tottenham fans should keep calling themselves Yids. I was unnecessarily grumpy about the whole thing – despite helping her out – because being put on the spot with such a loaded question was a little intimidating. She did very well and worked hard to get an  interesting response, but I really did not want to make a comment on this issue.

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