“Comment is free, but facts are sacred,” said former Guardian editor CP Scott back in 1921.
What he didn’t know then was that this would later become the blueprint for the launch of ‘Comment is Free’ (Cif), the Guardian and Observer Group’s way of giving their readership a stronger voice in 2006.
Taking the website’s 7 existing blogs and adding together comment pieces from the two newspapers, Cif was born.
Screengrab of Comment is Free from The Guardian
Comment is Free set-up
It provides a platform for people and not just journalists to write articles on the current affairs of the moment. With a ‘pool of talent,’ some 700 contributors, from politicians, academics, journalists, to the ordinary man-on-the-street cif celebrates both diversity and inclusion, producing 30 new articles a day. It may not be the only newspaper encouraging us to contribute, but it is one of the best.
Comment is Free is much, much more than simply a comment’s page. It is a near perfect vehicle to encourage user generated content. Of course, commenting on articles plays a large part of Cif to foster argument, debate and opinion but the route from occasional contributor to regular writer is clear. The more you comment (and say something useful), the more well known you become on the Cif circuit, the better chance you have of being able to pitch your own ideas and getting accepted to play a more habitual role within the website.
And the incentives?
• As contributors you get to see your work published in a national newspaper.
• You get to call yourself a journalist (should you want to).
• For The Guardian they get to tap into a massive (and free) resource, important when many national newspapers are struggling financially.
• The Guardian gets to keep their reputation as innovative, progressive and community led.
• It’s cool! The sheer amount of people that write for Cif is a testament to just how well respected it has become; Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Shami Chakrabarti and Terry Jones to name but a few.
As media strategist Steve Yelvington said in 2006, “Editors, please listen. If you’re not rethinking your entire content strategy around participative principles, you’re placing your future at risk”.
Now of course there has been criticism leveled against Cif. When first launched established journalists expressed their distaste at what they saw as citizen journalism taking over. They argued that with Comment is Free contributors could remain anonymous while saying what they liked. Content wise, some see Cif as provocative because comment is moderated, but largely uncensored.
But this is the beauty of the whole concept, that debate is driven by free speech, “As editors we want to have a broad spread of views on the blog and as far as possible try to give bloggers leeway to express themselves as they want” says the site.
It is this commitment to expression that led to those in charge of Cif allowing contributors to become editors for the day, taking over both the commissioning and writing of the whole site for the site’s fourth birthday in 2010.
They say: “Our aim is to host an open-ended space for debate, dispute, argument and agreement in which users are able to comment on everything they read.”
We say: Bravo Guardian. UGC down to a T.
Click here to go to Comment is Free – Frequently Asked Questions