No Comments on News Stories?

Sheila McClear just published a post on Gawker suggesting that newspapers should eliminate comments on story pages.

Comments are thought to be an added value to a newspaper’s site—providing another reason to read. You come for the article, and stay for the interesting discussion. The only problem is, there is no interesting discussion. Almost never. Not even from the mythical supersmart New York Times readers.

McClear trots out some “Sample comments, notably[sic] only in how uneducated and un-thoughtful they were?[sic]” The sample comment below was made on David Carr’s book excerpt in the NYT Magazine.

if he wasn’t a reporter for the new york times, would we be reading this?

This is uneducated and unthoughtful? This seems to me to be a pretty succinct summation of what a lot of people think about Carr’s story. But McClear’s opinion of the comment sheds some light on what is going on here – she thinks it’s “uneducated and unthoughtful,” so it must be.

(By the way, another sample comment McClear uses later in her post is one on a New York Daily News story that says simply, “W-h-o-r-e.” The irony of a former peep show girl finding fault with that comment is too delicious to pass up! Nothing against peep show girls, some of my best friends…)

What McClear is arguing here, seems to be that what the news industry needs is to further isolate journalists from those nasty readers. Perhaps we could greet our Web site users with a “Letter to Readers” splash page the next time they come to our Web site:

Dear Reader,

We have been carefully reviewing your article comments over the past several years and, regrettably, we have found them not to be up to our standards. You have frequently expressed yourself poorly, awkwardly, and just downright incomprehensibly. Many times you have said things that, well, we think just should not have been said. As a result, we will discontinue comments on our articles. Now, we know that many of you enjoy posting comments, write us when comments have been temporarily disabled, and read comments on controversial stories, thereby driving up page views, but we believe that, relieved of the distraction of uneducated and unthoughtful opinions, you will find our Web site a much more civil place.

We thank you for your opinions in the past, but from now on, please keep them to yourself.


The Staff

Whatever happened to, if you don’t like them, don’t read them? Not only that, it’s not unusual to find comments posted by experts or eye witnesses who can add something to the story that may have been missed by the reporter. Look, I think a lot of comments are stupid too, but who am I to judge? I’ll bet a lot of people will think this post is stupid.

2 thoughts on “No Comments on News Stories?

  1. In the abstract, from a tower miles above the surface of the earth, it easy – reasonable even -to make the argument that comments on news stories, obituaries and other vetted and edited content should be open to the masses for unfiltered commentary. As we descend toward the practical reality of sea level, it become painfully obvious that limits are needed. Limits aren’t a new concept in a free society – citizens regularly see limits placed on their abilities to own and carry a gun, buy a drink, adopt a child or sunbathe nude. Away from the public sector, limits are placed on what you can wear in certain restaurants (no shoes…) or which seats you can sit in at the ballpark. These limits are all established to keep some of us from doing things that would have consequences to the rest of us. Pretty simple equation, really.
    The unending barrage of mindlessly racially divisive commentary on newspaper stories that frequently have nothing to do with race, the penchant for the corner Mensa to vilify a child whose photo runs in the paper because of his or her looks does nothing but put a fire hose on a march toward civility that has enough challenges already. Newspapers have neither a duty nor obligation to continue web publishing unedited and often anonymous commentary if the participants continue to use the forum to attack.

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