Should Newspapers Allow Comments?


Gawker says no:

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.

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Should Newspapers Allow Comments?

  1. I never thought comments were supposed to attract intelligent discussion: I’d always assumed they were a ploy to drive up web hits.

  2. Here at Maclean’s, we’re hosting a regular Algonquin Round Table. Bon mots all around!!!

  3. That means good words in Italian.

  4. Oh, very provocative.

  5. “You can’t teach an old dogma new tricks.”
    Dorothy Parker (1893 – 1967)

  6. I agree that many discussion threads are dross but you do get some gems. I thought Luiza’s post So Much Bigger Than Ezra was quite good.

    I find that as long as commenters focus on their point, and don’t call others names or accuse them of something, than they are decent.

  7. “That means good words in Italian.

    So, no food?

  8. Unfortunately, they tend be mostly opportunities for us to beat each other over the head with our prejudices. Sometimes I feel I am in the old Monty Python sketch – The Argument Clinic:

    M: Look, you just contradicted me.
    A: I did not.
    M: Oh you did!!
    A: No, no, no.
    M: You did just then.
    A: Nonsense!
    M: Oh, this is futile!
    A: No it isn’t.
    M: I came here for a good argument.
    A: No you didn’t; no, you came here for an argument.
    M: An argument isn’t just contradiction.
    A: It can be.
    M: No it can’t. An argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition.
    A: No it isn’t.
    M: Yes it is! It’s not just contradiction.
    A: Look, if I argue with you, I must take up a contrary position.
    M: Yes, but that’s not just saying ‘No it isn’t.’
    A: Yes it is!
    M: No it isn’t!

    A: Yes it is!
    M: Argument is an intellectual process. Contradiction is just the automatic gainsaying of any statement the other person makes.
    (short pause)
    A: No it isn’t.
    M: It is.
    A: Not at all.


  9. Online comments: worth every penny!

  10. “food” in Italian is “vindaloo,” silly.

  11. It depends on what you mean by “should”

  12. No it doesn’t.

  13. oh quit being so artsy

  14. I would support online comments at newspapers’ and other medias’ websites for one reason: by particpating, by tapping away at the keyboard, you are trying to get your thoughts in order, to articulate your position. Posting can help you to understand the issue better, simply for the sake of it. Nothing wrong with that. How posting influences anything on a concrete level is another story. I may be against the war in Afghanistan; posting will never get us out of Afghanistan. But that leads to another topic, which I don’t think has been discussed here – so-called professional posters (whose existence I do not doubt for a moment) working on behalf of, say, a political party or an oil company.

  15. I think that you can get some very interesting discussions happening in the comments on a news site. Occasionally they descend to partisan bickering or to flame wars, but thats what you have moderators for. I just went back and looked through some of the threads here that I had bookmarked, and in a lot of cases (I’m thinking, in particular, of the ones on Senate Reform and Pierre Poilievre) some very interesting points were made. A scan of the CBC site shows the same, although the partisanship seems to be a tad more vitriolic there. Comments allow exactly what newspapers should be designed to do: foster a debate.

  16. I think it depends on how the comments are processed. I object to news media using comments to suggest public interest is served by highlighting items as a result of the volume of comments they’ve attracted. This is journalistic malpractice.

    Other substantive issues might be a wider exposure of disinformation/propaganda and the establishment of a false consensus among the readers, again, journalistic malpractice which leads to distortions of reality.

    If comments generally brought in additional information that we suspect is grounded in some kind of evidence somewhere, I’d see the point, but that’s practically never the case.

    Newspapers should host blogs instead (and expect their bloggers to participate in those dialogues, even if only minimally, if they really value reader interaction.

    But I know they generally don’t. It’s just the “in thing” to do right now.

  17. “journalistic malpractice which leads to distortions of reality”

    Hard to know where to start with a comment like this. Is it from another Monty Python sketch?

  18. Sorry, that should have been “distortions in one’s perception of reality,” ie. believing things that simply aren’t true. It’s not that difficult a concept grasp.

  19. Either way, I am sure Paul Wells will be flattered at this evidence of his magic power, though whether that arises from his “journalistic malpractice” or uncertain grasp of international cuisine is grist for a whole new thread!

  20. Either way, I am sure Paul Wells will be flattered at this evidence of his magic power, though whether that arises from his “journalistic malpractice” or uncertain grasp of international cuisine is grist for a whole new thread!


    Maybe I need more lessons in being glib. I thought this was a post where serious comments were welcome. But then, maybe that’s just me and my quaint notions about information and the power of the press.

  21. Can’t beat the Globe comment pages for vitriol – the CBC site looks tame by comparison, and has the “recommend” button to point out who the silent majority are backing.

  22. “I am sure Paul Wells will be flattered at this evidence of his magic power”

    no he won’t

  23. I’m intrigued by that idea that you could kick a comment up or down the hierarchy with a “recommend” button. A friend of mine once wanted to start a group blog, with a small list of contributors and a comment board, with the idea that consistently popular commenters could eventually be “promoted” to full contributors. You pick the next Colby Cosh!

  24. If you ever want a sure fire reason not to vote for left wing nuts just visit the TG&M web forums – I can’t ever recall see that many obviously very frustrated people who spend more time and energy ranting (more often than not just plain offensiveness)about the evil conservatives than they probably do support whatever party they vote for, if indeed many vote at all. The level of contempt and outright negativeness insure me a healthy morning laugh every time, I almost feel sorry for some of the people who really need to get a life. I think there is a difference between commenting on a journalistic article and commenting on Punditry a big difference. I think commenting on Punditry is part and parcel of the game but on an article maybe there should be a difference. After all an article on something should be as they say ‘ just the facts maam ‘ however an analysis with a conclusion or opinion embedded (which is is usually a fancy name for punditry) deserves any response it gets as more often than not it is designed for that very purpose.

  25. You’re right. I have upset Ti-Guy, insulted Paul Wells and now you are picking on me. This comment thing is over-rated. I’ll go back to lurking and muttering to myself from now on.

    BTW – I am always interested in what nicknames people chose for themselves (rather than using their own names) and why. The professional bloggers always seem keen to be identified but a decent smattering of people use interesting aliases (“Geiseric the Lame” – King of the Vandals? Does this signify something?) or just dodge behind something bland like Ti-Guy.

  26. Wayne,

    I think it’s worth pointing out that the G&M comments have a fair number of right wing nuts too. You do sometimes get good discussions even over there, but it’s pretty nutty sometimes and I don’t think either end of the spectrum has REMOTELY a monopoly on that.

    You probably notice the left wing variety more (and classify more of it as nuttery than I) while I probably notice more of the right wing, and classify things as “nutty” that you’d say were perfectly reasonable. I think the posts that get nutty comments though generally have a wondrous variety of nuts.

  27. Oh, and on Bill’s name thing, mine always gets misinterpreted, so pseudonymous blogging is a bit of a double edged sword.

    Still, I think it’s fair that perhaps people want to comment without having every political opinion they hold come up when someone googles their name. Obviously, I think that’s reasonable. What gets me sometimes is truly ANONYMOUS commenters, because it’s hard to keep track of who’s saying what, and it’s difficult to add salt to taste (i.e. people who’ve read my comments before can take them with a grain of salt if they’ve come to a conclusion about me as a blogger, which you can’t really do if you don’t know it’s “me” leaving a particular comment).

  28. Bill: Pseudonyms are also a safety issue. Perhaps you were out of school by the time the internet caught on, but I know that ever since I was 11 I have gotten a yearly lecture from my teachers about never, ever using your full name on the internet. Fortunately for me, I have an extremely common first name. Also, you are right in that you have managed to upset quite a few people. Maybe it’s just the threads you frequent, though, because I’ve noticed that, for the most part, debate and comments on here usually seem to be fairly sane and balanced. I really enjoy reading the debate that follows posts on here, almost as much as I enjoy the articles (sometimes more) because you get to read the various perspectives that you might otherwise be blinded to. Particularly the extreme ones, because when you aren’t passionate about something, it’s interesting to read the deep-seated opposing responses of those who are. As well as frequently amusing.

  29. “King of the Vandals? Does this signify something?”

    Since you asked and off the top of my head, a couple of things, actually. It reminds me that standing up to Rome isn’t good for your reputation and usually involves falling off your horse.

  30. A newspaper should allow itself to be criticized by the public, which I think is a primary reason to keep a comments section.

  31. @sophie: I have gotten a yearly lecture from my teachers about never, ever using your full name on the internet.

    Right. Because heaven forbid — you might be held account for things you write.

  32. Andrew writes: “Right. Because heaven forbid — you might be held account for things you write.”

    Sophie is right, especially in a web 2.0 world. Andrew, you are paid for your opinion – it is your profession by choice. But, with techniques used by data mining companies to build a profile of an individual (for marketing consumer goods; or more nefarious purposes)as someone who has expertise elsewhere with perhaps a different perspective or opinion, as others do, I’d never use my real name on the internet. Sophie is wise.

    Ironically, you ask in your earlier blog: “How to honour Solzhenitsyn?”. Maybe it is to heed his warnings.

    His G&M obit reminds readers of the risk of being “held [to] account for the things you write”

    Born Dec. 11, 1918, in Kislovodsk, Mr. Solzhenitsyn served as a front-line artillery captain in the Second World War, where, in the closing weeks of the war, he was arrested for writing what he called “certain disrespectful remarks” about Stalin in a letter to a friend, referring to him as “the man with the mustache.” He served seven years in a labour camp in the barren steppe of Kazakhstan and three more years in internal exile in Central Asia.


  33. Hey Lord (I like that) I do notice the occasional posting by a right wing nut occasionally at the TG&M web forum like myself (I really stir stuff up there hahahaha)however they are generally slightly insulting to Liberals and then more often that not when not insulting and just posting information from their perspective they are flamed beyond belief by the left winguns’ it is the sheer volume of outright plainly insulting name calling with no substance or creativeness that concerns me about the state of affairs for the biased web forums. I like being insulted if it is somehow creative (as I steal it and use back at the left)

  34. Andrew — If people’s opinions never changed, then you’d be correct.

    Hopefully, and why I frequent comment boards, is that people’s opinions can change. Including my own, on occasion. When that happens, do I want to be tied down to opinions I may have held before I was fully aware of all the points of debate in the issue? It’s not like I’m getting paid to do so, after all.

    Another reason for anonymity is that people tend to box things in. For instance, say I worked as a judge or something where I’m supposed to have an impartial view of the defendants and accused that come before me. To assume that I would have no biases about anything is ludicrous. However, so long as those biases did not interefere with the judgements I made, they’re not a problem.

    Unfortunately, even a perception of bias could lead to a trial being taken up to appeal (eg, Thomas Penfield Jackson) whether or not that bias had anything to do with a decision rendered.

    Also, as Dot pointed out, using a real name leaves a trail. This leaves you susceptible to those who would take advantage of you, as the more they find out, the more likely they will be able to pull off something from various types of con to straight out identity theft/reputation trashing.

    In short, there are good reasons for people to want to be anonymous in their comments.

  35. Actually, Andrew, I believe the reason we’re lectured on it is a safety issue- the internet is full of weirdos, you know!

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