To comment or not to comment….

That is truly the question.

One of the great tools available with online newspapers today sits near the bottom of the screen, just under the article your glancing at. It sits there empty until you decide to use it, but it can allow you to post your opinion to the world.

Ah, that wonderful comment box.

comment box

Last month the Neiman Journalism Lab published an article talking about building “community” with online papers, mostly with readers comments. The idea sounds like a great theory, but in practice I don’t think it’s working to our benefit currently.

I feel that though these comments can help spur the direction of a conversation, they can also bring some underhanded blows to the paper.  How do you feel about the public commenting on pages?  Have you seen any comments that have made you cringe inside, or wonder what that person was thinking?

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14 responses to “To comment or not to comment….

  1. Yes. I have seen some mean comments but what can you do ?
    I think people should speak their mind.

  2. I’ve definitely seen comments solely meant to insult or harm a person’s reputation, especially the person who wrote the article. People who do so are distasteful and are likely commenting for their own personal gains. Comments should be instructive and positive. Publications that aren’t receiving constructive criticism shouldn’t allow them. It’s pretty simple. Does anyone else feel this way?

  3. I’m not sure I agree that comments should be instructive and positive. Not that I think commenters should dump on the author, either. But they should definitely be able to speak their minds… as long as they don’t use the article as a jumping off point for something totally horrible and rather unrelated. I think comments, in general, have helped bridge the gap between journalists and the community in which they live.

  4. Inman will love me for saying this, but isn’t the whole point of social media “getting in the conversation”? Commenting on blogs or articles is part of social media and I think people should be able to if they want. No matter the situation, there will always be someone who says ridiculous things whether it’s in person or online.

    • I agree with Kate, it’s all about furthering the topics online and sharing opinions. Of course sometimes the comments are going to be pointless, but it goes back to the same idea of the “should journalists be allowed to Twitter” debate — there’s really no appropriate way to completely restrict this.

  5. Matt Vasilogambros

    Online comments are useful to a certain extent. I believe newspapers reserve the right to take content off their site that is malicious in nature, vulgar or obscene, but they should be careful on what they take off. It’s a messy situation when newspapers start censoring content. What do you think should be taken off Web site comments?

    • I like the idea of the newspaper staff pulling malicious content off their sites, but at the same time, you would literally need someone whose ONLY job is to CONSTANTLY monitor the site which isn’t viable.

      Then, of course, they could miss a comment which could cause something horrible to happen and then what? Could the newspaper be held responsible?

      It’s good in theory, but it’s a big responsibility.

    • Ok, I don’t think this posted the first time I wrote it, so I’ll try again.

      In theory I like the idea of the newspaper regulating/removing comments, but that’s a huge undertaking. In order to be at all effective, there would need to be someone monitoring the site literally CONSTANTLY, and that’s not exactly viable.

      Plus, I don’t think the public would react very well at the idea of being filtered and censored that way. They could see it as a violation of their rights.

      That’s not to mention the fact that removing comments could become a liability issue. Like what if someone missed just one malicious comment that caused something bad to happen? Could the newspaper be held responsible in some way if they’ve already taken on the responsibility of filtering the content in comments?

      I’m not sure, but it still seems too risky.

      The other option, of course, would be to “hide” the comments. Allow users to click through to read what people are saying about the story. The extra work could discourage haters who will bash somebody and something and discourage readers who will likely be offended by the comments.

      The downside is that it could really limit the “conversation” and interaction between journalism and the community it supposedly serves.

      Commenting is a tricky business

  6. Last year in Des Moines, a seventh-grader died of a drug overdose at an after-school “pharm party” (abuse of prescription drugs). The Register’s story comments lit up with derogatory comments about the dead boy’s mother, criticizing her by name, questioning her parenting skills, essentially blaming her for his death. It was a new low by comment trolls.

    I think many reasonable, intelligent readers stay away from the comment boards because they don’t want to swim in the swamp of stupidity.

    That said, readers expect to interact with the story, the reporter, and other readers. I do think good can come of the comments, if we can figure out a way to handle them properly.

    One thing newspapers could do is encourage the reporters to partake in the conversation about their stories. They should correct and clarify — and request civility.

    On the legal side, the latest interpretation of law is that news sites can’t be liable for defamatory comments posted to their sites by readers/users. I see that changing, however. Shouldn’t someone defamed have a channel for legal recourse?

    • I say yes! I completely agree that there have to be viable legal consequences and procedures regarding comment posts. Libel is libel, and people’s reputations, business ventures, etc. can be damaged even more severely by information on the web than an article tucked on page 4B of the local newspaper.

      To me, the more interesting debate is not whether anyone should be held legally accountable, but whom? The publication or the person who actually posts the comment? Would both options be feasible?

    • From spending countless time perusing the Des Moines Register website, I’ve seen comments that clearly go off topic. A great example that I saw was two weeks ago. I remember Van Wyke showed the class an article on the front page that had a picture of a 70 + woman in her home, obviously suffering. It went with that article abut how the recession is affecting senior citizens.

      However, the “comment trolls” as Van Wyke lovingly calls them were out in full force; commenting on the fact she had cigarettes sitting on the table in full view of the camera, but yet the woman was on oxygen; complaining about how she has a $170 cable bill every month, and still pays a mortgage; even complaining that the Register was sensationalizing news and filling their quota.

      I was quite shocked.

      Do I think papers should maybe have someone filter the comments, so that positive comments can shine through. Yes I do, but who would want to spend all that time having to weed out the trolls?

    • I heard about this story. Awful… Legal recourse is difficult to claim in a case like this, because technically the newspaper can’t take credit for third-party commenters… right?

  7. The best thing about commenting is that people are reading your work and having a reaction to it. However, those reactions can sometimes be negative and downright mean or insulting to others.

    I’m really torn about this subject. The easiest way to fix it would be to have commenters “post” those comments to email and then have a “staffer” sift through and pick only the “good” ones.

    But this creates a problem, of course. We don’t have any staff because we don’t have any money in the industry right now for this type of project.

    Bummer. I’m stumped.

  8. Pingback: Anonymous Comments Almost Cost College Newspaper « Multimedia Journalism

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