A stuffed nation?

I don’t how to put this diplomatically, so I’ll be direct.

Dear Fairfax,

Please, please, please exterminate the abomination that is Stuff Nation. 

I of all people am a supporter of allowing readers and commenters to contribute content. I think that is a good thing.

But it is a bad thing when you put that content on the front page of your website, and mix it in with the articles written by actual journalists. It devalues their work, and the entire site.

Take an example of a “story” that was on Stuff’s front page yesterday. It was this one that said:

A few years ago I applied for a job at a factory making trampolines.

The manager’s first question was: “Are you a married woman?”

I thought ‘ughh you creep’ but bit my tongue and asked why he needed to know.

His answer left me speechless: “I don’t employ married women because their place is in the home to raise their children properly.”

Guess what though? I truly hate to admit it – being a (reformed) seventies feminist  – but he’s dead right.

Let’s even put aside that a company that has a majority of female employees publishes on their front page a story saying married women shouldn’t get jobs, because that makes them bad mums who can’t raise their children recently. Let’s agree that is a valid debate (personally I think it was a valid debate in 1912 not 2012).

But the 81 word “story” doesn’t even make a case for or against. It just says an employer asked me this once, and he was right.

Danyl McL has a theory that Stuff Nation is in fact a cunning plan by Fairfax to make people appreciate real journalists even more. If so, it is working!

Look I understand the commercial attraction of Stuff Nation. Get hundreds of people to write for us for nothing, in the hope their contribution makes the front page of Stuff, and we get to make advertising revenue from the ads we place on their content. And that is a fine model for GP Forums, and other bulletin boards.

But this mixing of banal reader contributions and actual journalistic articles and columns is hideous. Has Fairfax asked their staff what they think of it? I’m pretty confident they hate it.

Is there a solution, short of my preferred option of a large radioactive nuclear bomb?

How about just removing Stuff Nation articles from the front page of Stuff? I’ve already removed the Stuff Nation section from the Stuff front page, but their articles still turn up under “Editor’s Picks”. The article on why married women should not work was an Editor’s Pick!!!

Why not make Stuff Nation a standalone website. Make it nation.stuff.co.nz. Have a link to the site from Stuff, but don’t mingle together the content from your professional journalists with your reader contributions.

Either that, or nuke the abomination!

UPDATE: The new editor of Stuff Nation has responded in the comments:

Ouch! I’m totally up for debate on this (as the new editor of Stuff Nation and Stuff’s digital communities), but abomination might be a bit rough.

I think there’s some fair points in this blog though and also in the comments. I’m glad BlairM pointed out the obvious flaw in the fact that this is a blog, based on the opinions of an individual, much like the majority of content on Stuff Nation. I think it’s dangerous as journalists for us to assume that one person’s opinion is more valid than another’s.

There was a lot of debate yesterday about the quality of the ‘job interview nightmare’ mentioned above but I think in the context of readers sharing their stories and opening up debate on key issues, it’s a very valid form of citizen journalism. And by publishing it we weren’t endorsing the content – in the same way we don’t agree with every op ed piece we publish in our papers or websites.

I think it’s fair to mention that Stuff Nation – like any new major project – is a work in progress and we’re constantly working on ways to improve it and the quality within it. We have had some really beautifully written pieces from our readers (like this http://www.stuff.co.nz/stuff-nation/8059106/Remembering-loved-ones-My-world-ended-that-day ) that have not only been amazing reads, but have provoked discussion around tough issues such as suicide, miscarriage, and loss, and that we would have struggled to produce through traditional news gathering channels.

In the meantime though, the stories are very clearly marked as Stuff Nation content, so if you’re not keen, you can easily avoid them. And I’ll just work away in the next few months to win you back :)

Thanks to Janine for a constructive response to my rather inflammatory post. To some degree I find the dross puts me off discovering the gems like the ones cited above. Maybe have people vote on the best pieces and have them displayed more prominently, so that the signal to noise ratio is higher?

But here’s an example of what I was complaining about. I follow NZ Stuff Politics on Twitter. My expectation is that tweets from that account will be linking to stories written by journalists on politics. One tweet this afternoon was:

Call for new Education Minister

I clicked through on this, thinking it was a significant story. That a lobby group or school or union or MP had called for a new Education Minister.

Instead the link was to this Stuff Nation story. It was basically a letter to the editor, or a short piece by a reader called Peter Condon that he thinks Parata should go.

This shouldn’t be tweeted as a political news story by the Stuff NZ Politics twitter account. It isn’t a story. I’m not saying don’t have the opinion on the website somewhere, but this treating of a Stuff Nation opinion as no different to a news story is I think bad.

Some have said just don’t read Stuff Nation stories. I generally don’t. But when the Stuff twitter accounts promote them as if they were actual news stories, I have no way of knowing until I click on them. Set up a Stuff Nation twitter account, and leave the nation stories ou of the other twitter accounts.

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