Monday, March 26, 2007

What he said

Hope the fearless leader of Testy Copy Editors doesn't mind a repost of his comments on the Post's "Story Comments: Should We or Shouldn't We?" controversy:

"Re: 'reader comments': Spot-checking and self-policing do not work. Only moderation--which is time-consuming and 'labor intensive'-- would help. That would require money probably better spent on other things. Solution: Drop the 'comments.' Even if got rid of the racist, homophobic, misogynic, obscene and otherwise offensive comments, the pointless, stupid and repetitive ones would remain. There are enough Web sites in the world on which to post stupid and pointless comments. Why legitimize them with the Washington Post 'brand'?"

And, while we're at it, why waste people's time? I'm going to take a swing at paraphrasing Alexander Meiklejohn from memory here: The point of free speech in a democracy is not necessarily that everybody gets to talk, but that everything that needs saying gets said. I have yet to see the "comments" thread on a news report (you excellent commentators here are different, of course) that added anything to any discourse worth hearing.

"Pointless, stupid and repetitive" is putting it politely. And if you need more of that in your life, Dick Vitale will be back any day now.


Blogger Denise said...

I have seen good things come out of comments sections -- additional sources or tangents for stories -- but the fact remains that those are crutches for lazy reporters, who troll the comments looking for ideas rather than wearing out the proverbial shoe leather.

The newspaper already has a comments section: it's called Letters to the Editor. If someone feels strongly while reading an online story, provide a link on each page to compose a letter to the editor. Guaranteed all THOSE get vetted before print. And readers will still have the feeling (albeit w/o the instant gratification) of speaking their minds.

10:48 AM, March 27, 2007  
Blogger Strayhorn said...

Hitting the "add comment" button is much easier than gathering together the materials needed for a letter. Especially gathering the thoughts. And, alas, that allows the stupid and repetitive an easy way to foist their racist, sexist, etc etc ideas onto an unwilling audience.

See also: The Death of USENET. Film at 11.

Once AOL allowed the mouthbreathers into a area once reserved for those smart enough to compile a good news reader out of their shell accounts, the level of conversation moved from the realm of a chat with a learned professor to that of a argument with your bigoted Uncle Pete.

So, yeah, there are many good reasons to delete the comments function. I have to fight that battle about once a month while setting up websites for various clients.

On the other hand, I can think of several newspaper editors who routinely ignore their readers' comments and suggestions, even those submitted by traditional means. Of course, the corrective market mechanism for this is called either "declining readership and revenues" or "lawsuit."

12:58 PM, March 27, 2007  
Blogger mike said...

Online comments are sometimes thoughtful and interesting. Sometimes not. Just like the "vetted" op-ed pages. Luckily, online comments are easy to scroll through. That we keep insisting on doing things just like we've always done them (there's already a "comments section: It's called Letters to the Editor") is precisely why newspapers are in such bad shape.

1:38 PM, March 30, 2007  
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