Lawfare

Feedback Results

By Benjamin Wittes
Tuesday, May 8, 2012, 6:29 PM

A great many thanks to everyone--and there were a lot of you--who sent me thoughtful comments, criticisms, and praise concerning our military commission coverage in response to my request of yesterday. Here is what I have learned--and what I mean to do in response.

First, the overwhelming reaction to the level of detail in the coverage among those who wrote in was positive. People ranging from law students to active duty military personnel, from government lawyers to academics, say they find the blow-by-blow chronicling function valuable. Some are emphatic on the point. The coverage, many readers have told me, gives a precise sense of what happened while being livelier and much shorter than a transcript--which many readers say they would not take the time to read. As one person put it:

You provide a unique service--if I wanted the short version, I could read the Times.  Your approach is better than the newspapers, in that it is more detailed, has a better appreciation for the legal process, and by not making substantial edits it does not transmit as much intended or unintended bias.  At the same time, it is much less reading than plowing through the transcripts, and is better in that it conveys the human reactions inside the courtroom.

As long as a sizable number of readers feel this way, and the numbers suggest that a lot of people are reading these posts, we will continue providing this detailed coverage.

Second, a relatively small group of people definitely agree with Spencer Ackerman that we're drowning out signal with noise. One prominent Washington attorney wrote in to say that:

A lot of talent and space are directed to what will not even be footnotes to history, while much more significant issues could use the attention.  I’m among the readers who value and are thankful for the blog’s identification and strategic treatment of a wide range of legal/security issues, but the "ringside" coverage of the commissions (like the coverage of GITMO-related D.C. circuit briefing and arguments) distracts and detracts from those strengths.

While this view represents a small minority of people who wrote in, it presumably represents a much larger contingent of the site's readership--the most enthusiastic of whom are far more likely to express their views than those who just ignore the ringside coverage.

Moreover, I received some feedback from people who were concerned that the volume of posting from these events tends to drown out other things posted on game days. For example, Ken had this post on Saturday about Jen Daskal's new article; a lot of people probably missed it (they should go back and read it!) because it is surrounded by the blizzard of arraignment posts.

Finally, some people did suggest that we offer more analysis, in addition to the detailed coverage--a summary post or two for those readers who are not going to dive deep into the chronicles.

All of these concerns seem to me valid, so here's how I would like to handle events like this in the future. I've asked the estimable Matthew Scarola--who did Lawfare's redesign a few weeks ago--to create a separate stream of posts for what we'll call "Event Coverage." These posts will not appear in the main stream of the blog but will have their own special space, accessible as a menu item at the top of the main page. On days with events that call for extensive coverage essential to some readers and overwhelming to others, we will post summary and analytical posts in the main stream of the site and link to the more detailed coverage for that group of readers who want to dive deeper. I have moved the 9/11 arraignment coverage to this category already and we will, over the coming weeks and months, migrate back events coverage there as well.

A special note of thanks to Spencer Ackerman, whose tweet prompted evaluation. I have found the feedback so valuable that I will probably post a reader survey in the next few weeks to learn more about who our readers are and what we could be doing better. And to the cheeky readers for whom this observation raises the question of why we don't take comments on the site: Forget about it. It's never happening.