A Few Comments About Those Comments

Since I write a blog, I read multiple blogs. You probably read a few too, although sometimes you might not even know it. Online news is often presented in Blog format today. How do you know? The simplest way is to check if comments can be read or posted after each story. If so, then it’s technically a Blog.

Two icons from the bottom of a Blog post. The one on the right was for Twitter. The one on the left indicated comments. Twenty-five had been made; if you clicked on the link, the comments would appear.

Through this technology, we don’t just get our news or information, we can read immediate reaction to it from a medley of news-reading people.

It’s a great concept, but the sight isn’t always pretty.

A Brief Blog-Versus-Website Primer

For those who are still a little confused, a Blog is a crazy name for a journal on the Internet. Blogs are not really Websites, but some Websites are Blogs. Since you can start a Blog for free, it’s becoming popular to build one instead of a Website (although you can build them for free these days, too). But the primary difference is that a Website contains static information that is pushed out to the reader (beyond the occasional form to fill in), and a Blog is a two-way street.

When used in this fundamental way, a Blog is all about feedback, like a conversation. The reader can interact with the writer by posting a comment, to which the writer can respond. Facebook and YouTube have blog-like functions. There are Blog communities, such as LiveJournal or WordPress, in which sites are accessed and promoted through a common portal. This helps readers find and keep track of the ones they like and helps writers connect with an appropriate audience.

You can stay connected with ones you like by signing up for notices via email, or by following Blogs, reading them via RSS feeds, utilizing Blog tracking/reading services, etc. It depends on your work style and the features available on each.

The ones I favor are written by friends or like-minded individuals or offer insight that I find useful. I usually share something in common with the other readers, too, because I often agree with their comments.

That’s not ALWAYS the case, though, especially when it comes to online news Blogs.

Blogging’s Impact on Journalism

I call them journalistic blogs because they are written for newspapers and the like. They can be produced by the local news service or a firm such as The New York Times. Some limit the coverage to a particular topic, such as StateImpact, which is said to be “a reporting project of local public media and National Public Radio,” and covers energy, environment, and economy surrounding the Marcellus Shale industry.

The posts present the facts as known, quote a few sources, and include the opposing view if needed — the typical journalistic structure. It’s written for a broad audience: anyone who wants to know more about what’s going on with the topic at hand.

The Way it Was

For most of my life, Americans collected the paper from their doorstep or mailbox every morning and retreated to the breakfast table to read about what happened yesterday. Neighbor might have waved to neighbor, said a friendly hello, or asked if she knew if the Phillies won, but beyond that, little was known about what the other thought of the news. Some might have engaged in debates over the issues, but they always knew exactly who they were talking to, because they were looking at each other’s face or hearing each other’s voice.

The News Today

Thanks to the Blogosphere we can retrieve the news in secrecy. And we can tell the world our opinion while hiding in the same shadow. Today, we can essentially write a passionate letter to an editor without divulging our identity or our place of residence. And because this can be done in an instant, readers can see into our reactionary mind, as well as those of a broad spectrum of readers.

It has often been the case that a well-articulated opinion will force me to challenge my own. Commenters may shed light on a fact not included in the article. Or they bring up a historical event witnessed before the writer was born. This collective knowledge can enhance the story, and the perspectives show just how wonderfully diverse we all are. Thanks to the Blog format, a whole new dimension has been added to the news.

The Bad and the Ugly

But sadly, too often the comments make me shudder. They leave me thinking “Am I totally alone? Has the world gone mad? Does this ugly sentiment represent that of the average citizen?” I’ll tell you, there are days when the comments leave me feeling distraught. I think, “maybe I should just stop reading them. Ignorance is bliss, so they say.”

Then I began to look closely. And I found a pattern. A few specific phrases or tactics were used, especially among the most disturbing opinions. With light shed on their faults, the credibility of the commenters who used them disappeared. Now I can quickly reject them and move on. So that you too can weed out the croakers and trolls to make way for intelligent debate, I share these with you here:

1.) Commenter to journalist: “Do your homework.”

Unless the commenter is a respected journalist himself, he cannot know how impossible it is to capture every angle, every fact, and every piece of information related to every story. If this was a prerequisite to publish, nothing would reach the public’s eye. Why don’t they just say, “I know more than you about this, you ignorant bastard, so the paper should fire you and hire me to write just about this one topic every day, all day.”

Of course I don’t appreciate lazy journalism — that’s a rampant problem today — but a reader should be able to add what he or she knows without throwing insults. And besides, no matter how good the reporting, the journalist can never know it all, and even if (s)he did, the editor would have cut the copy sooner or later.

2.) Commenter to journalist: “Who do you think you are?”

They probably think they’re the writer of the story.

3.) Commenter to writer, “This is typical [insert paper name]-style reporting.”

This one is just looking for a fight with the network or the conglomerate. If you don’t like the paper’s slant, don’t read it or take up the issue with the executives or the editors. The commenter probably disliked whatever would be written before he or she even clicked on the link.

4.) Words like “arse” or “sh_tface” are used, because they know ass and shitface won’t make it through the vulgar filter.

5.) The commenter has an inclination to use words like ass or shitface.

6.) Outright verbal attacks are used.

They might have something to say about the story, but it is so buried in direct insults, its difficult to figure out the point.

7.) They rewrite.

The person copies an excerpt from the story, pastes it into their comment, and then rewrites it as if their version would have been better. Like in #1, they try to insult the writer with this tactic. It usually unveils the fact that they have no understanding of how difficult it is to present information in an unbiased fashion.

Although these types of comments are rampant, they are NOT an accurate representation of public opinon. Frankly, of the people I hold in the highest regard, many are too shy to comment. Or they care so greatly about the English language, they don’t have time craft a letter that would meet their own standards. That leaves us with folks who are 1.) not intimidated by Blog technology, 2.) brave enough to share their thoughts with the entire world, 3.) carefree enough to accept that Blogs are forgiving when it comes to grammar, spelling, and typos, and 4.) ignorant tyrants who like to hide behind a screen name.

So for those of you who get your news via Blogs today, don’t let those aggressive and ugly commenters get you down, and never fall into the trap of thinking they represent the average reader. They don’t. They represent the average bully and, since every playground has one, we all need to learn how to ignore them until they go away.

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