Reader-commenters spend "every waking moment" saying "idiotic things," Waters exclaimsCOLUMBIA, 3/19/12 (Op-Ed) -- A cartoon created by Columbia Daily Tribune president and general manager Andy Waters -- Hank Waters' son -- portrays the newspaper's online reader-commenters as cheap, lazy, obsessive ninnies.Unveiled at last month's Key Executive Mega-Conference in San Antonio for media and newspaper executives, the animation has drawn mixed reviews from readers at the Tulsa World newspaper, where web editor Jason Collington hosts it. It also appears at Mizzou's Reynolds Journalism Institute."So they think of their customers as idiots," one reader wrote. Other readers found the animation entertaining and provocative, but also condescending and inflammatory.Created with web-based animation tools from XtraNormal, Waters' cartoon features two bear-like creatures discussing online newspaper paywalls. Reader Bear condemns Trib Bear for charging fees to read and comment."Don't you know there are other free sources of news online?" Reader Bear asks. "There is a blogger in town who writes provocative opinion pieces about local public officials and business owners he does not like and puts them on his free website.""He writes about City Hall from home in his pajamas," Trib Bear counters. "But it's free."
The conversation quickly turns to online readers."I consider it a violation of my rights of free speech to not be able to say idiotic things about people and issues I know nothing about in a forum that you provide at your expense," Reader Bear explains. "I spend every waking moment of my life leaving comments on your website. What am I going to do with myself now?""You could get a job, go outside, volunteer at a charity," Trib Bear advises.After the two trade more insults, Reader Bear tells Trib Bear he should eliminate print newspapers to save money rather than charge online readers. "How will we pay our reporters and editors?" Trib Bear asks. "Would you write stories for our website without being paid?"But that's a question local newspapers and other publications hope many writers answer "yes". Like the Missourian, the Tribune pays few if any of its regular columnists, highlighting a problem that exploded across the pages of The Huffington Post last year. Legions of unpaid writers sued that publication for compensation after founder Arianna Huffington sold it to AOL for $315 million.