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"Comments on Comments"
July 27, 2008 7:58 AM   Subscribe

NPR's On The Media presents a short set of pieces about comments on news websites and the challenges of "digital democracy," with discussion from Ira Glass about responses to a show about teenage runaways, and New Republic editor and critic Lee Siegel, who posted anonymously to respond insultingly to comments on his own blog. And a Roanoke newspaper editor discusses how one paper sees the integration of comments into online news sites and whether it's a valuable reader service.

The This American Life show that sparked the show's decision to disable commenting on their website.
posted by Miko (67 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Why Newspapers Shouldn't Allow Comments.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 8:09 AM on July 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


I thought the NPR show really missed the opportunity to say that comments can be moderated and can form the crux of an online community. "People just throwing their opinions out there---there's no use for that." Of course there is, jackass. [See what I just did there?] It's all about building a community, and sites like YouTube, Yahoo Answers, and the New York Times are not good at it.
posted by mattbucher at 8:28 AM on July 27, 2008 [3 favorites]


Lee Siegel's book is called "Against the Machine"? Why didn't he just call is "I don't get the Internet? I love this quote from him:

I react very badly when mediocrity throws a tantrum of entitlement.

Wow, is that ever a self-damning statement.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:42 AM on July 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Great post Miko.

I think that it's important to remember amongst the talk about "digital democracy" et cetera that the presence of comment forums on any corporate web site has a great deal more to do with the faddishness of Web 2.0 "user-created content" rather than high-minded principles or even a journalistic desire for feedback on their work.

From a business standpoint the idea is "You set up one of these web forum thingies and then all sorts of people come to your site and start writing and uploading web content - for free!!! And people stay on a web site for like ten times longer if they're even thinking about commenting. All you have to do is just sit back and rake in the web traffic / marketing capital / advertising dollars!" I have literally seen businessmen start salivating and have their pupils turn into dollar signs with a *cha-ching* sound when user-created content is explained to them.

mathowie excepted from the hordes of the unprincipled and rabidly avaricious, of course.


I liked Ira Glass's reasoning behind shutting down the comments but that stuff about "royalism" was a bit much.
posted by XMLicious at 8:51 AM on July 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm against people posting comments to other people's posts.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 9:02 AM on July 27, 2008


I'm against people posting comments to other people's posts.

You down wid OPP?
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 9:11 AM on July 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


"We don't need to create a forum for the audience to express their mean-hearted opinions."

We'll tell you how to think and what ideas and points of view are acceptable!

The problem with a comments section is that the comments might fall outside the media framing.

From Horace Rumpole's link, these comments are unacceptable in response to some NYT reporter getting to blatantly pimp his memoir, I guess because White crackheads get book deals while Black crackheads get jail:

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

"Monetizing your shameful past is disgusting. Haven't you harmed your loved ones enough for one lifetime?"


Why are they bad? They question things too much.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 9:26 AM on July 27, 2008


The really funny thing is that most newspaper comment threads are better written, more entertaining, and more full of facts than any article appearing in The New Republic.
posted by three blind mice at 9:27 AM on July 27, 2008


They should limit comments to their elite corps of friends, until people really want to join the exclusive club, and then charge, say, $5, just to put some kind of barrier to entry.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:29 AM on July 27, 2008 [4 favorites]


That Gawker piece was bizarre-- newspapers shouldn't have comments because people are mean to people who write addiction memoirs? [Disclosure: I wrote a blog entry critiquing Carr's excerpt on grounds of its lack of analysis and insight into addiction and its context for Mother Jones]?

Those mean comments actually exemplify why newspapers are dying: they are publishing content that *isn't* what people want because they are relying on old formulas and people are tired of them. We've had the 12-step addiction memoir how many times now?

The response to my critique (aside from that from Carr and one of his friends, who chided me for critiquing an excerpt, not the book) was overwhelmingly positive. The attacks on Carr were not just trolling: while many were not particularly eloquent, they were annoyed at the Times promoting its own author's book under guise of reporting. When they found that the excerpt, while well-written, did not add anything to the debate about addiction, they got more annoyed.

the editors should pay attention and either avoid such blatant self-promotion or excerpt part of the book that *is* newsworthy-- which would be at least some analysis, not all story, which Carr has said he includes in the book.

Readers are telling newspapers something: there is content that they value and the "most emailed" and "most commented" are not all quirky fluff; they are basically the best of journalism in terms of good writing, in-depth reporting and fresh ideas. If they stopped cutting that stuff back and focused on their strengths, they wouldn't be in such trouble.

Moderation of comments and some requirements for commenters (like MeFi has) seems to be the way to go..
posted by Maias at 9:30 AM on July 27, 2008


The really funny thing is that most newspaper comment threads are better written, more entertaining, and more full of facts than any article appearing in The New Republic.
Really? I've yet to read one that even comes close to a mediocre MeFi thread.

If they stopped cutting that stuff back and focused on their strengths, they wouldn't be in such trouble.
Yes, there's something in this. Though I reckon that just adding a comment box to the end of an article is a tired old formula, and probably the worst way to go about it. Comments work well when they're the focus of a place (and they definitely are on MeFi, "it's all about the links" be damned), not so well when the true focus is elsewhere and the commenters are hit-and-run typers.

Also, the paper sites almost uniformly have reaction-driven moderation, deleting the worst stuff rather than tending and helping the good stuff to grow.

And that's really all I can say about this post, as I can't listen to any of the links from here. I rather hate this trend of podcasts, videos and spoken-word stuff becoming primary. I can whizz a transcript of a 40-minute podcast in under 5, and link to it, quote it, all the good stuff. A big ol' MP3 blob? No ta.
posted by bonaldi at 9:43 AM on July 27, 2008


Thinsg that shouldn't have comments:

Newspapers
YouTube
BoingBoing
posted by Artw at 10:09 AM on July 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


Oliver Sacks wrote a very interesting short article about the Patterns of migraines for the NYT on Feb 13.

Within two weeks, it had grown an enormous comment-ary tail of such mind-bendingly spectacular brilliance the afterimage may stretch across my mind's eye for the rest of my life. It is by far the best exhibition and discussion of the phenomenon of migraine headaches I have ever seen, and certainly one I never knew to hope to be able to see.

If any online enterprise could ever domesticate and control the kind of fire that Sacks (I suppose unwittingly) brought down to earth with that piece, it would be revolutionary.

Metafilter does seem to me to collectively sense the possibility of such a thing and grope toward it-- enough to keep my Millennial dreams alive, anyway-- but blinding smoke and stink result more often than the warmth and illumination I crave, I'm sorry to say.
posted by jamjam at 10:24 AM on July 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


W-H-O-R-E
posted by Kwine at 10:45 AM on July 27, 2008


TheOnlyCoolTim wrote :

From Horace Rumpole's link, these comments are unacceptable in response to some NYT reporter getting to blatantly pimp his memoir, I guess because White crackheads get book deals while Black crackheads get jail:

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

"Monetizing your shameful past is disgusting. Haven't you harmed your loved ones enough for one lifetime?"


Why are they bad? They question things too much.



I'm inclined to think that the reason these comments are objectionable is not to be found in the questions that they raise, but rather in their tone. Many people have become accustomed to having a place to air their point of view without moderation, and--outside of categorization of some contributions as spam or trolling--there's hardly a standard for what makes some user-created content meritorious and what might be generously called a person's "two cents worth".

The comments quoted above are hardly the worst of the sort, but there is something rather presumptuous and imperious about them, isn't there? Something in the dismissiveness of the first and the tidy, snap-judgment of the second?

One comes to a topic hoping to find intelligent discussion and is put off by the amount of bad jokes, knee-jerk opinions and limitless petty arguments that have become the norm for user-generated content. Hopefully in time more sites will incorporate fair and manageable systems to separate the wheat from the chaff without depriving anyone of a voice.
posted by millions at 10:58 AM on July 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oddly enough, Time magazine's Person of the Year this year is People Who Are Tired of You.
posted by zylocomotion at 10:58 AM on July 27, 2008


I guess because White crackheads get book deals while Black crackheads get jail

To be fair, black crackheads get book deals as well. What's more, they tend to write much more interesting memoirs than the white crackheads do.

I'll take a Lee Stringer or a Cupcake Brown over James Frey or this joker any day of the week.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:14 AM on July 27, 2008


One comes to a topic hoping to find intelligent discussion and is put off by the amount of bad jokes, knee-jerk opinions and limitless petty arguments that have become the norm for user-generated content.

This is exactly why I've been awfully dismayed by my local paper's choice to open up comment sections after every local story. There is no redeeming content being posted in these. Articles about police investigations, trials, are the worst. Those commenting are always dead sure the suspect is guilty, and they engage in vicious character assaults with no evidence beyond what was in the newspaper's article. Then quotes from these comments are used--attributed to made-up online handles--in follow up articles as if they reflect an informed opinion. It's as if the paper wants to declare the verdict without itself appearing to be making that decision. It's one thing if a blog engages in this, but a newspaper that's been serving a community for generations has an air of legitimacy about it, whether it's earned or not. It's crap journalism and it amounts to little more than public humiliation for anyone unlucky enough to make the headlines. But, hey--anything to sell online ads, right?

Letters to the editor exist for the purpose of reader feedback. Anyone wishing to comment on a news item may do so, so long as they're willing to sign their full name and accept responsibility for what they'd like to see in print.
posted by TrialByMedia at 11:24 AM on July 27, 2008


The problem with allowing comments on newspapers stories is that it transforms reporting pieces into opinion pieces. There is precious little fact-generating reporting online already, so such muddying seems especially wrong-headed, and actually harmful.

Newspapers should just allow commenting on opinion pieces, and disallow commenting on fact/reporting pieces. If people want to discuss and debate the facts contained in a piece of reporting, there are plenty of places to do so online. (Including this bluish place right here.)
posted by william_boot at 11:26 AM on July 27, 2008


The Inquirer started allowing comments to all articles not long ago, it's turned each and every homicide report into essentially a white power discussion forum.
posted by The Straightener at 11:36 AM on July 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Does anybody read the comments down here?
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:54 AM on July 27, 2008


Letters to the editor exist for the purpose of reader feedback. Anyone wishing to comment on a news item may do so, so long as they're willing to sign their full name and accept responsibility for what they'd like to see in print.
posted by TrialByMedia at 11:24 AM on July 27 [+] [!]


intentional eponysterical?
and what you propose is a model that has been outdated by the technology

In reading content on the CBC website, I often find the user comments as interesting as the story (esp. as comments can be "recommended" so the interesting ones rise to the top). But these are moderated so the "hateful, racist, ad-hominem attacks" do not make the cut. I find this a good balance between allowing immediate and genuine reader feedback while imposing a modest level of decorum.

A couple things from the NPR links
1. asking people to be nice on the internet doesn't work (so fuck you)
2. full spectrum disabling of user comments is an over-reaction that is clearly a case of throwing the baby out with the bath water
3. moderate your comments - user comments are a service to both the reader (content) and the content provider (free content!) - moderation as maintenance is the price
4. fighting back, anonymously, as your own biggest fan, is going to make you look silly (NR really wouldn't take down the posts charging pedophilia? and for this case, come on, this guy seemed to be more concerned with arguing his greatness more than clearing his name as tragically sullied in the anonymous user comments section)

I also believe there is a forum for unmoderated, anonymous comments. As much as the comments on youtube are distressing, they are in their own way ... interesting
posted by sloe at 12:07 PM on July 27, 2008


There is a conceit in the world right now that every viewpoint is equally valuable, every opinion bearer has an equal right to be heard, and that so-called ordinary people have more to contribute than experts. You see this on news programs where "balance" is demanded for every story that might conceivably be regarded as having an opinion rather than a factual basis, creationism and global climate change being the poster children here.

The whole thing has a disturbingly anti-intellectual bias to it-- how dare that Harvard-educated specialist dare to think s/he knows more about it than I do just because they've devoted his/her life and considerable intellectual ability to this issue . Doesn't my opinion count!

Critical issues should be open to debate by anyone who wants to chime in, and I think comments sections should stay, moderated as heavily or lightly as the individual site sees fit. However, what we need to do is balance the value of the input. Is charlieboob114's comment really as valuable as say, Bill Moyer's? Right now the attitude seems to be it is, and it is because "how dare some intellectual set himself up as better than me?" And it is the media's fault (full disclaimer-- I actually and non-facetiously personally blame it on the vast right wing conspiracy) that they have not insisted on weighting these viewpoints.

Some people are smart and informed and should be listened to. Some people are crackpots who should be ignored.
posted by nax at 12:19 PM on July 27, 2008 [4 favorites]


devils rancher wrote: Does anybody read the comments down here?

Yup. If there's enough good stuff above, I'll go this deep.
posted by millions at 12:23 PM on July 27, 2008


I think booting the comments section from TAL would have pissed me off a lot a few years ago. Now I feel a bit different, after watching so much useless, depressing crap pop up in the comments (even the moderated ones) on the NYT site. If there is any site I'd like to see comments done away with, it is that one.

Truthfully, I've also felt a bit like the other side when I've made comments that were rejected by the NYT that I felt weren't bad enough to be censored, especially when I saw all the "omg I didn't read the article but MAN I need to comment, with no punctuation or real point in doing so" that got accepted. So yeah, I don't bother commenting there now, it just seems rather... useless? If I want to post my poorly thought through opinion about a story online, I have plenty of other places I can do that. I tend to think about the same about the frothing hotheads who have made visiting some sites so unpleasant. Harumph!
posted by wowbobwow at 12:46 PM on July 27, 2008


PS- yes, I know, my grammar is awful there. Blah.
posted by wowbobwow at 12:47 PM on July 27, 2008


Our very own fraying (author of the insightful and prescient book Design for Community) had some smart comments on the OTM show and the larger topic.
posted by twsf at 12:52 PM on July 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


The Lee Siegel segment is particularly amusing:

Siegel: "It makes these individuals feel good. It gives them the illusion that they're being read, but any newspaper editor will tell you, with a winking aside, that nobody's reading these threads except the people that are on them."

Obviously "people that are on them" includes the authors of the posts and articles people are commenting on, as Siegel himself demonstrated when he used a fake nick to respond to his commenting readers on TNR's website. It's not surprising that Siegel refuses to acknowledge why his readers were posting comments to his articles, and the true reasons why talking heads fear comment forums, but I'm surprised that Bob Garfield didn't challenge him on this at all.
posted by longdaysjourney at 1:38 PM on July 27, 2008


From the Gawker article:
"lately I actually find myself scanning the bottom of magazine and newspaper pages for the comment section, then quickly realizing that I'm not online and promptly getting depressed."
posted by Xurando at 2:05 PM on July 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


I think the days of media seigneurs are more or less over. And these interviews allow me to exhale a great deal of thank fucking goodness. If you are afraid of getting hurt, then you shouldn't be in this business.

I certainly have observed a transformation in comments since I began my current blog in 2004. I've always received a certain ratio of nastiness in the comments. And except in cases of the publishing of personal information, I've always approved the comments. I have only banned a handful of people from the site, not necessarily because I cared what they had to say, but because I felt that visiting any site more than ten times a day and leaving a trail of word crumbs isn't particularly healthy.

I've always felt that part of running a blog is to serve as an alternative to the print gatekeepers who can't be bothered to listen to their readership, or allow them to participate in the process. Plus, if you put something out in the world, you should do so without fear and be prepared to discover that some people might loathe what you do, or wish to carry on reading your cite because they enjoy loathing you.

But while there has certainly been an escalation in people, presumably ensnared within drab day jobs (so the IP addresses reveal), who expend a good deal of words fulminating against me over some picayune point that has nothing to do with what I've written, there have also been a number of remarkable insights from readers. Even those who disagree with the piece. And this great capacity for civil engagement is what keeps the comments open. It is for these people that I throw myself into the fray, going through the tedium of wading through vitriol and folderol. There is a minimum percentage of enlightenment that one finds within the world at large. And if you take enough careful steps through careful moderation and the encouragement of enlightenment, you will increase that minimum percentage. On the whole, people are good. Legitimate thinking can serve as a positive alternative to the Gawker-style snark, as well as the authoritarian pronouncements of incurious cowards like Lee Siegel, who are utterly terrified to have their deficiencies revealed to them. Me? I enjoy knowing that I have deficiencies or that I've flubbed a point I'm trying to make. Keeps me humble, keeps me evolving, keeps me on my feet, keeps me ever learning, keeps me honest.
posted by ed at 2:20 PM on July 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's not democracy if there is no way to account for the participants of that democracy. I mean anonymity isnt part of the deal. You must raise your hand in attendance and be willing to be held accountable for breaking the rules in that democracy. Democracy doesn't mean free for all. The Democracy argument is null and void as far as I'm concerned.
posted by Student of Man at 2:29 PM on July 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


The Inquirer started allowing comments to all articles not long ago, it's turned each and every homicide report into essentially a white power discussion forum.

That is exactly the same with the Seattle papers. If a person of color is mentioned in an article about crime, it immediately brings out the vilest in our community.

Otherwise, local comment sections consist almost exclusively of illiterate political potshots, right vs. left. Doesn't matter what the actual subject of the article is.
posted by maxwelton at 4:01 PM on July 27, 2008


I agree with fraying's assessment of the piece -- where are the interviews with commenters? -- but I think there's some truth to the problems with commenting.

Like e-mail before it, comments are breaking down as a communications means. In both cases, it's cruft that's doing the damage -- spam for e-mail, anonymity for commenters.

Last month at BarCamp Seattle I did a 30 minute semi-screed against the very organization I blog for (and the owner of said organization was nice enough to blog about it without firing me). The gist of it is that I think commenting one blogs is fundamentally broken, and there are problems with every possible fix. Slashdot-like systems have an inherent bias towards whatever the groupthink of the audience is. Banning anonymous commenting creates a barrier to entry that can shut out those who wish to be anonymous (in a sense, it's the "false positive" problem of anti-spam software).

I'll probably finally cobble all the pieces together tomorrow into a long post about this mess (and how I hate the "unregistered readers" of the Seattle P-I and the general free-for-all of the Stranger).
posted by dw at 5:32 PM on July 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


I find this all fascinating - being right in the middle of a lot of this right now. I've been a member of various online communities for years as commenter and poster, and happen to work for a newpaper (developer for the Boston Globe), and happen to have my own blog on there now, with moderated comments enabled, called The Big Picture. The comment traffic is crazy (to me at least, being new to this moderation gig) - almost 5,500 comments since June.

One interesting piece of this puzzle is the inherent assumption that blog entries != newspaper articles. I believe that's true, but where and how is that line drawn exactly? Is it because articles are content originally intended as one-way communication, but with comments tacked on later? Because blog entries could be viewed in the same manner. It also reaches deeper into what the definition of newspaper is these days - is it a two-headed creature with a dead-tree half and an online half (with URLs in ink linking to the online, and content on the web made from repurposed print stories). I really try hard to eliminate the distinctions, and think of the whole enterprise as a storytelling institution. The formats and methods of delivery vary, but the basic storytelling is still there. Some stories do well as silent monologue, others as a raucous back-and-forth with an audience.

I'm finding an interesting parallel in my new role as comment moderator. To build an entry to my blog, I spend a lot of time viewing raw images from news wire feeds - many are banal, some interesting and artful, and some tragic and/or nsfw. The experience of moderating a stream of incoming comments is much the same, and whatever editorial eye I can put toward finding good pictures, I can try to put toward keeping comments as civil as possible. The key (and problem), is that it takes work to do that.
posted by kokogiak at 6:40 PM on July 27, 2008


local comment sections consist almost exclusively of illiterate political potshots

Around here, the StarTribune's comment areas are a crapfest where the majority of commenters are oldtime right-wing blowhards who hate the Strib as a representative of the "liberal media".

It's awfully sad. On one hand you have the increasingly irrelevant Daily Paper, trying to keep up with so many online competitors, on the other hand you have ancient old coots who are delighting in getting revenge for perceived slights that may have happened decades ago.

Personally, I don't think the Strib is even all that "liberal" anymore. But as an institution, there've been periods in history where they've been awfully puffed up with self-importance. Even though their current situation is pretty distasteful, I can't help but think there may be some chickens coming home to roost.
posted by gimonca at 6:52 PM on July 27, 2008


However, what we need to do is balance the value of the input.

Ultimately, that's an ad hominem argument. Persons in academia, or political inner circles, or journalism, or many other fields, no longer have a monopoly on access to information. The goal of an "expert" or "pundit" today is not to offer information, but to protect their privileged access to it.
posted by gimonca at 7:03 PM on July 27, 2008


Persons in academia, or political inner circles, or journalism, or many other fields, no longer have a monopoly on access to information.
This is such a tired old canard. Sometimes monopolies are granted, and when it comes to access to power and information, they very much are.

Whether you want a seat on Air Force One or early access to new Apple products, you'd better have a massive audience, a credible image and a reputation for trustworthiness. Bloggers don't have that; they're notorious for being awful with embargoes in particular, even when honouring them would benefit everybody.

Because of that, and because of their willingness to spin and be spun to partisan agendas (because media ethics are redundant in the time of conversational marketing and sponsored writing, apparently), the newer media is helping create the smoke and noise of a healthy investigative culture, while actually the legwork is languishing.

The problem is, that a lot of the time the wealthy and the powerful would much rather keep the persons in academia, journalism and many other fields out, and they have to fight to get access. It's hard to wedge open the door to a mansion, even when your foot represents hundreds of thousands of powerful people. It's harder still when there's a party going on inside and everyone's yelling at you to get lost.

We may think we have open access to all sorts of information. I fear we only have the sorts of information we want, not what we need.
posted by bonaldi at 7:16 PM on July 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


The goal of an "expert" or "pundit" today is not to offer information, but to protect their privileged access to it.

And this is absurd, too. As a journalist and an expert, my entire life is devoted to getting information to people. Do I want people to understand things the way I do? Of course I do-- because I have spent years getting the expertise I have and it's completely useless if I know it and no one acts on it.

Do I want people to think I'm more of an expert than someone who hasn't devoted 20 years to writing about the subjects I cover? Obviously-- but that doesn't mean I don't share everything I can. In fact, I often help other reporters who cover the same subject as I do-- even at the potential risk of having ideas stolen, because frankly, in many ways, I *want* my ideas stolen. Sadly, people tend to steal only those that support their preconceptions, typically-- which are not the ones I want to convey, usually.

Now, if I were a doctor, I wouldn't want non-experts doing surgery. But I wouldn't want that if I were a patient, either-- and the idea that expertise is valueless or just some promotion of a secret guild is ridiculous. The kind of expertise that is just that isn't real expertise-- it may be inside information about who's up and who's down, but that's not expertise, that's gossip.

It's certainly true that anyone can do journalism. But it's also clear that doing it well takes practice and some kind of training (whether that be on the job or reading other people's work or actual school), AKA, expertise.
posted by Maias at 7:33 PM on July 27, 2008 [4 favorites]


that a lot of the time the wealthy and the powerful would much rather keep the persons in academia, journalism and many other fields out, and they have to fight to get access

The problem here lies in the assumption that these are two discrete non-overlapping groups of people.

As a journalist and an expert, my entire life is devoted to getting information to people.

No, it isn't. It's devoted to filtering on behalf of people who never requested such intervention--as you yourself say, on conveying the preconceptions you want to convey. Forty years ago, that's how the game was played. Not so anymore.

What's really ugly is the dystopian notion that people shouldn't be allowed to think for themselves without expert guidance and analysis, because--horrors--they might come up with the wrong answer. Because as we know, experts never, ever make mistakes themselves.
posted by gimonca at 7:52 PM on July 27, 2008


Aside from the anonymous poison people drip into comment threads, the whole "chasing google" aspect is incredibly annoying, too. I swear half the comments on popular blogs are in the following format:
Wow! Great pictures! I blogged about them today.

Cletus
http://shittyblog.example.com
If you do following the link, you find a blog entry that, in its entirety, consists of "This blog I found is awesome! Check it out!"

Either the moderators here do an awesome job of nipping those comments in the bud, or the $5 fee as hurdle really does work to prevent that.

The "echo-chamber effect" is also lame. For example, all personal finance blog operators comment on each other's blogs--every thread--often not saying anything of substance but getting in that crucial link. If you find a 30-comment article on one, 25 of the comments will be from other personal finance bloggers. I think this helps to exclude "regular" folk, who might wish to comment but are reluctant in an atmosphere where everyone commenting seems to be an "expert."

Then there is the idea that you're "sharing" a blog with a bunch of morons--it is enough to make you not want to come back. If the first ten comments are "first!," followed by the blog link shittiness and then various personal insults and political diatribes...it's depressing.

Heavy-handed moderation isn't fun, either. Who wants to be banned or disemvoweled on a whim or because they don't toe the line?

I have no clue what the answer is, if there even is one.
posted by maxwelton at 11:42 PM on July 27, 2008


Has anyone tried true non-anonymity? So, a commenting system where your real name must be attached to your posts? Maybe the names could only be seen by logged-in users; guests (and Google) would see a user-chosen pseudonym.* Names could be verified by a nominal ($1) charge to a credit card.

Perhaps after some lengthy posting history had been established, users could earn the privilege of anonymous posting (e.g., when it was necessary to avoid getting fired over a post).

* Presumably a dedicated person could determine which pseudonyms belonged to which real names. To weaken this attack, each thread could randomly assign a name to each poster (so, in one thread all of my posts are consistently ascribed to John Smith, in another thread Constance McGee, in another Elliot Parks, etc). That way, attempts to Google "Elliot Parks" would bring up lots of threads, in which the "Elliot Parks" were, in reality, different people.

Using random but plausible names also makes it much easier for users to quote and respond to one another in-thread. I hate blogs full of references to timestamps or post numbers.
posted by jedicus at 8:22 AM on July 28, 2008


Has anyone tried true non-anonymity? So, a commenting system where your real name must be attached to your posts?
The Well has done this. It doesn't stop flame wars, interestingly.

What's really ugly is the dystopian notion that people shouldn't be allowed to think for themselves without expert guidance and analysis, because--horrors--they might come up with the wrong answer.
Jesus, you're bad at this stuff. Most experts and analysts would be delighted if people started thinking for themselves, and spend their time railing against idiotic groupthink and sheepish voting. They're not trying to feed them answers (and I'm not including outlets like Fox News in this), they're trying to provide them with the material to make a sound judgement.

Take the MMR vaccine scandal. Experts coming out of the woodwork to say "this scare story is a load of shite, and the research is awful, the jab is safe!", while commentators and pundits said "ah no smoke without fire!" and here we are with the highest levels of measles in a generation and a mumps epidemic all because of "ahhhh you can't trust those filtering experts" dickwittery.
posted by bonaldi at 8:49 AM on July 28, 2008


As a journalist and an expert, my entire life is devoted to getting information to people.

No, it isn't. It's devoted to filtering on behalf of people who never requested such intervention--as you yourself say, on conveying the preconceptions you want to convey. Forty years ago, that's how the game was played. Not so anymore.

What's really ugly is the dystopian notion that people shouldn't be allowed to think for themselves without expert guidance and analysis, because--horrors--they might come up with the wrong answer. Because as we know, experts never, ever make mistakes themselves.


Um, no. Clearly, you've never read much of what I've written because my point of view is clear and so is the evidence on which I've based my perspective. I don't hide my perspective-- I argue it. And I don't filter, I footnote so if you want to read the studies yourself, it's easy to do.

Much of what I argue for is greater education on critical thinking and understanding stuff for yourself. But that doesn't mean that expertise isn't needed because everyone cannot possibly be expert on everything.

Also, lots of people *love and certainly do request* filters-- it's why edited writing tends to be so much better than raw spew. If you don't have much time, an abstract is a beautiful thing. And if you know where someone is coming from and they are transparent and well-sourced, it's typically a hugely better experience to read a synthesis by a trusted expert than it is to read every original source for yourself.
posted by Maias at 9:17 AM on July 28, 2008 [3 favorites]


spend their time railing against idiotic groupthink

This is not what happens. What you encounter is railing against idiotic other-group-think. One's own groupthink remains unexamined.

And really, you're so convinced that one side will be infallible in a debate that you're willing to sacrifice the other side's right to control their own bodies to prove it (a right that needs to include, by the way, the right to make a mistake). Groupthink, indeed.

Going back to the original post, even though some of them are spicy or pointed, many of the comments that the NYT or NPR are aghast at are simply people saying what they think--and the persons of privilege at those institutions can't deal with regular people. They move in one circle, and they're suddenly shocked that other people move in a different one.

lots of people *love and certainly do request* filters

If it's 1968 and there are two daily newspapers in town, which smoke-filled-room filter do you request? The morning paper or the afternoon one? If it's 1968 and you want to look at original source material, do you go to the library and hand them a sheaf of interlibrary loan requests? It wasn't that long ago that people's choices were very, very limited.

People certain have the right to choose who or what to read (and again--they have the right to make a mistake). It's the notion that only one group or clique or sewing circle (including journalists) has a lock on the truth that's invalid. And a notion that will get one in deep trouble, since in the current environment the general public will wash over it like the tide over a boulder.

You don't need "journalism" to get information. You do need it to support cultural and institutional structures of information distribution--but we don't need those structures anymore. Claims that "we need journalism" are appeals to save those structures and institutions. I'm not fond of the idea that we should roll the clock back 40 years and "trust our betters" to tell us how to act.
posted by gimonca at 10:54 AM on July 28, 2008


What's the name of this site again?
posted by Artw at 11:09 AM on July 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


And really, you're so convinced that one side will be infallible in a debate that you're willing to sacrifice the other side's right to control their own bodies to prove it (a right that needs to include, by the way, the right to make a mistake). Groupthink, indeed.

What the fuck are you talking about, you paranoid loon2.0? Of course people have the right to make mistakes, all that is being hoped for is that they do it with the best possible information to hand, not some godawful misinformation, whether or not that comes from a shitty scare blog or a dreadful Op-Ed piece.

We don't need journalism to save the "structures and institutions" that you clearly know so very little about; we need journalism to help guide us through a maze of conflicting information, vested interests and downright lies. Whether those journalists work for a printed newspaper or an online publication is completely fucking irrelevant, as is whether they're paid or unpaid.

And, yes, actually, when I need to be operated on, I'm definitely going to ask my betters (ie, people who're better at surgery than some dude I found on YouTube) to do it. Same as when I want to try and understand a complicated topic I know nothing about. If that's what rolling the clock back means, then set those hands a-turning. You're welcome to your idiocracy.
posted by bonaldi at 11:54 AM on July 28, 2008


Whether you want a seat on Air Force One or early access to new Apple products, you'd better have a massive audience, a credible image and a reputation for trustworthiness. Bloggers don't have that; they're notorious for being awful with embargoes in particular, even when honouring them would benefit everybody.

Are you saying bloggers aren't on Air Force One or don't have access to new Apple products? Really? A blog is a medium--hell even whitehouse.gov hosts blogs--not a synonym for nerds without credentials. And an embargo on a tech press release is not the same as a journalist revealing the identity of Valerie Plame.
posted by mattbucher at 12:11 PM on July 28, 2008


No, sorry, that was the wrong term and not at all what I meant.

I was sort-of handwavingy between two things that need better terms -- on one hand bona fide newsgatherers (as the NUJ so delicately puts it), and on the other the disreputable/publish-what-I-like/commenting/web-enabled hordes that find the sort of "truth" beloved by gimonica.

Journalists can be in either camp, as can bloggers.
posted by bonaldi at 12:17 PM on July 28, 2008


We don't need journalism to save the "structures and institutions" that you clearly know so very little about

Which proves my point exactly. The standard party line is that those not in the circle cannot know for themselves, and must rely on those in the circle. Your own statements portray the pattern being discussed.
posted by gimonca at 1:49 PM on July 28, 2008


God almighty, with reasoning like this I wager you're a conspiracy nut as well.

I didn't say it would take someone in the "circle" to understand, I said that you -- just you -- clearly don't have any understanding of what you're talking about, and are covering with quasi-humanities jargonising. You're trying to construct a narrative of social exclusion via the extended patterns of media control, but you don't have enough source understanding, so you're left flailing for sub-activist metaphors of oppression, or something.
posted by bonaldi at 2:31 PM on July 28, 2008


And you keep doing it, without offering any further argument than "you don't know what you're talking about"--which I'm led to assume is just a mirror into your own inner dialog. Meanwhile, 'journalism' has apparently been elevated to the level of brain surgery.

It's hardly a conspiracy to expect people in journalism as a profession to try to throw up barriers to entry, the same way cane farmers in Louisiana demand tariffs on foreign sugar, or steelworkers in Pennsylvania sit around the bar complaining about how someone else is taking their jobs. Doesn't require any secret handshakes or signs. Doesn't really change the situation in the long term, either. Eventually the steel mill closes, or people plant rice, and life goes on. Maybe a career in brain surgery could offer itself. The Daily Paper won't be missed.

What is corrosive is the idea that journalism as a profession is 'necessary' because only 'journalists' can do it. Demonstrably false, but if implemented as policy, it creates a privileged class by limiting activities that should be available to anyone to those who are officially sanctioned. In societies that value freedom of expression, that is not a good thing.
posted by gimonca at 5:01 PM on July 28, 2008


I've tried to start this comment several times now, but you're so deeply wrong-headed it's difficult to get a handle on. Everything you assume is mistaken; everything you desire is misguided.

Journalism isn't necessary, but it is desirable, because otherwise it is difficult to hold wealth and power to account. Doing so, by necessity, requires a person to act as an investigator, to observe their actions and expose them to public view. We call the people that do this work journalists and their work journalism.

A journalist only draws their ability to demand answers of the powerful by dint of the fact that they represent their readers; the more readers they have, the more ability they have to demand this. Conversely, when the rich and powerful want to get a message out, they give it to the journalists with the most readers.

In one sense, this activity is "available to anyone" -- you are free to request a seat on Air Force One, or demand a corporation explain its action. It's just that they'll say no to you. This isn't because of a protectionist industry, or a privileged class, it's simple power economics: you've got none, they've got lots, and you have no leverage.

A large readership is that leverage, and it's the dividing line between credentials and no credentials. There's very little more to it than that. There's no barrier to entry: want the power? Get the audience, whether they read you on paper, listen to your voice or browse your site.

What it seems that you want, though, is the power without the audience, and you're asking to be skinny without losing weight, to get rich without income, to run without moving. You're talking nonsense.
posted by bonaldi at 6:03 PM on July 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Exactly. I'm not saying that journalism is brain surgery-- but I am saying that like anything else, one gets better with practice, experience, research and contact with relevant people.

If you prefer to read unedited rants about the brain by someone who doesn't know serotonin from neuregulin or political commentary about the prospects for passage of legislation by someone who doesn't know the parliamentary rules of Congress and who the important players and doesn't know who to ask to find out are or if you prefer to read an investigation into the finances of a complex shell game corporate structure by someone who doesn't even know a credit from a debit, go to it.

I'll prefer to have my neuroscience covered by people who know neuroscience, my legislation covered by someone who knows something about how Congress works and my financial journalism done by someone who can read a balance sheet and knows some forensic accounting.

not too long ago such expertise *was* actually sneered at by journalists who thought that if you had five minutes and talked to one person on each "side," you could cover anything well. That type of journalism is dispensable. the kind that is done by people who actually know their beats and who pour their hearts and souls into them is not.

and i truly believe that people actually are willing to pay for the latter kind either via reading ads or actually paying-- but the media is too freaked out to realize it.

amateurs and citizen journalists can bring important new perspectives to the table-- but if they are going to do much worth reading that is reported and not dependent on actual journalists' reporting, it's going to take time and that will ultimately mean they need to be paid or they need to be independently wealthy and if they are devoting that kind of time to the work, they will no longer be amateurs and outsiders.
posted by Maias at 6:30 PM on July 28, 2008


We need professional journalists as well as seat-of-the-pants information disseminators like bloggers for for the same reason we need both medical doctors and osteopaths and the lady who balances my chakras.

Any professional education-- doctors, lawyers, development officers, journalists, police, teachers, etc-- imparts (at its best) not only the tools of the profession (in the case of journalism that would be the tools of information gathering, which I think we all agree that journalists no longer have a lock on), but also the judgment, background, history, industry-wide agreed upon ethics, and understanding of the milieu in which they are operating. Journalism, in huge transition right now, is having to reconfigure and re-figure out this understanding of the milieu. This does not mean that we no longer need to train our journalists in ethics or history, it means, as informed and responsible consumers in a democracy, we also need to understand and be able to distinguish the mavericks from the liars from the responsible journalists from the hidden agendas from the acknowledged agendas etc etc. That journalists no longer control, or more, are no longer the only ones with either understanding or access to the sources of information does not change basic ethics on the side of journalism, or our responsibility as citizens in a free society to try to understand what we are reading.
posted by nax at 6:45 PM on July 28, 2008


We need professional journalists as well as seat-of-the-pants information disseminators

Not only that, but many people who opine about freedom of information and unfiltered access have never actually experienced unfiltered access. Once you do, you gain tremendous appreciation for the work of journalists and editorial boards. Not too many bloggers are motivated to comb through fifteen years' worth of drivers' licensing records, for instance, to determine a pattern of discrimination, or to drive up to the state courthouse to review the copius, dry documents of a twenty-year-old grand jury investigation on a suspicious arson case that you've just uncovered a new lead on, or even attend city council, for heaven's sake. Journalism has evolved in formal institutions in part because it covers formal institutions. Because of that, journalism needs knowledge of the information systems that those institutions use, relationships that will allow them to learn what data is available and how and when to access it, and the sheer infrastructure that allows them to invest amounts of time that would deeply startle most bloggers into assembling an understanding of any complicated issue. People who think blogging can replace traditional media institutions rarely opt to deal with either the scope or the depth of information that journalisms developed to address. It's quite rare to see much original reporting on blogs at all, let alone investigative reporting or reporting involving significant data analysis. Uncovering the details of a single story on, say, an embezzlement or a government corruption scandal usually takes the equivalent of at least a couple of weeks of full-time labor for a few people gathering and analysing information. It's just far beyond the scope of your basic blog.

There's a very real danger that the shallowness of blog coverage, combined with the relative naivete of a lot of [not all] blog reporting, is going to do exactly the opposite of blowing open the doors of the halls of power. As public officials and business leaders realize that their watchdogs are disorganized, decentralized, small-readership, heterogenous writers whose agendas supercede their interest in an informed citizenry, we face the possibility that all reporting - not just the traditional media's - will become completely irrelevant.
posted by Miko at 7:56 PM on July 28, 2008 [3 favorites]


What it seems that you want, though, is the power without the audience, and you're asking to be skinny without losing weight, to get rich without income, to run without moving. You're talking nonsense.

That's of course not what I'm saying at all.

Blogs are good, blogs are bad, any notion that blogs or new media in general is automatically good is clearly not what I said. Nor was I the person to enter the phrase "shitty scare blog" into the discussion.

A large readership is that leverage, and it's the dividing line between credentials and no credentials. There's very little more to it than that. There's no barrier to entry: want the power? Get the audience, whether they read you on paper, listen to your voice or browse your site.

What is completely missing from your understanding is the power of the aggregate. For better or worse, there is a lot more power to be wielded in numbers. Most of the interesting work nowadays is being done in groups or networks, not by the legendary "crusading journalist" (or even "lone blogger"). I can't think of a single blog that I read regularly that doesn't link to comparable or complementary work being done at another site.

In any case, there's little financial barrier to entry now, because people don't have to invest in offset printing or transmission towers. The monstrous problem with your submission here is that a few comments back, you said "Bloggers don't have that/reputation for trustworthiness", yet now you proclaim "Get the audience" to anyone at all. Make up your mind.

Doing so, by necessity, requires a person to act as an investigator, to observe their actions and expose them to public view. We call the people that do this work journalists and their work journalism.

And that's the pretty mythology. It would be a beautiful idea, except that for every Edward R. Murrow over the last 50 years you've had tens of thousands of old tired hacks, having a beer with the City Council, getting an in on new development projects, maybe hoping to have a cocktail-party hand at shaping policy instead of reporting it.

It would be a huge improvement to have reporters who can actually spell and pronounce the streets and cities they're reporting on (a constant problem around these parts--the television reporter who can't say Wayzata correctly pops up almost yearly). With journalism as a profession, so many people are plugged into "journalism" jobs as interchangeable parts: they're trained in "journalism", and that's good enough for the status quo. I'm reminded of the case of a local reporter who was caught in an "ethics problem" in his sports reporting, and was shifted over to write in the automotive section, without anyone batting an eye. Ethics problem solved, apparently.

The fascinating development around here is that a few individuals who used to be the better writers at the Big Daily Paper are no longer there--they're online, doing supposedly disreputable work on sites that dangerously resemble "blogs". By my definition, that's outside the "journalism" I'm talking about, so there could be some definition shift there. There are also writers still at the Big Daily Paper who are complete suckups in city politics, still on payroll, hoping to keep their barstool in the back room.

I've been involved in following city issues and controversies around here, I've read financial studies and engineering reports (on paper, believe it or not), talked with elected officials at several levels, been to dreadful public meetings. The consistent role of the local journalists I observed was to deliver the City Hall message, whether that was to cheerlead new projects or scold people who got in the way. Scandals were reported on after the perp walk. There are a handful of thoughtful writers around here, but there sure aren't any Woodwards or Bernsteins. Invariably, I knew more about the issues at hand than the print or radio reporters (who showed up rarely and reluctantly), and more about just about everything in life than the TV reporters (who showed up if a building were closing or someone died). Somehow I managed to do all this without remuneration. If I could keep up in my spare time, where did that put the legendary, heroic crusading reporter? I've seen the face of big-time journalism, and I've seen some real schlubbs.

And if it's this bad in an "enlightened" part of the country, one can only imagine what the status quo is like in, say, Kentucky or Oklahoma.
posted by gimonca at 10:17 PM on July 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


That's of course not what I'm saying at all.
Right, because what you're saying is an ad-hoc duck-and-weave collection of drivel that you can hang at jaunty angles from selected quotes all while avoiding the substance of what people are saying to you.

I can't think of a single blog that I read regularly that doesn't link to comparable or complementary work being done at another site.
Uh, and? I can't think of a single news outlet that doesn't "link" in the fashion of its medium, even if that's no more than an "as reported in The Fuckwittian yesterday" line. Moreover, aggregate doesn't get access. In aggregate, the whole country's powerful, but you'd need a revolution or an election to prove it.

The monstrous problem with your submission here is that a few comments back, you said "Bloggers don't have that/reputation for trustworthiness", yet now you proclaim "Get the audience" to anyone at all. Make up your mind.
Which, as I have already pointed out, was the wrong way to phrase it. "Bloggers" wasn't a good way to put it, although even at that, as things stand presently it's a roughly defensible position. It's interesting that despite some of them growing substantial audiences indeed, many bloggers have neglected to exploit or utilise the access which is their due.

Either way, it's all mush, as is your paean to yourself as master reporter, hero of the small, pronouncer of Wayzata, because it's yet another selective digression from what has been asked of you, which was to defend shite like
The goal of an "expert" or "pundit" today is not to offer information, but to protect their privileged access to it.
and
What's really ugly is the dystopian notion that people shouldn't be allowed to think for themselves without expert guidance and analysis, because--horrors--they might come up with the wrong answer.
which it seems you can't do, except by defining terms so the world fits your view. Definition shift, indeed.
posted by bonaldi at 2:29 AM on July 29, 2008


It's interesting that despite some of them growing substantial audiences indeed, many bloggers have neglected to exploit or utilise the access which is their due.

Good lord, you do live in a cave, don't you?

Either way, it's all mush, as is your paean to yourself

So if I know, I don't know, but if I don't know, it's my own fault. Right. Your own posts are so full of x is wrong, therefore x, and such word salad, that any sort of "analysis" of what you're putting out there would lead us far, far away from the actual topic. In any case, it's obvious that you're stuck in a world of yesteryear, unwilling to cope with change, and lashing out at anyone who represents a preceived threat to your worldview. You'd make an excellent scare blogger, yourself.
posted by gimonca at 4:44 AM on July 29, 2008


s/pre/per
posted by gimonca at 4:48 AM on July 29, 2008


Jesus christ dude. Word salad? Far away from the actual topic? Stuck in a world of yesteryear? Pot, kettle, do meet.

You're like this reactionary 1995 cyber-booster, full of the joys of unfettered access to all this information that wants to be free, blinded to the downsides and joyous at the perceived unshackling of news. At least then we had the excuse that the world hadn't yet come to pass, and optimism's always cute.
posted by bonaldi at 5:28 AM on July 29, 2008


I'll take that as yet another in an endless line of opportunities to point out the differences between what I've said and your attempts at describing it.
posted by gimonca at 6:35 AM on July 29, 2008


I'd prefer that, actually. OK:
The goal of an "expert" or "pundit" today is not to offer information, but to protect their privileged access to it.
There's two things here: the goal, and the privileged access. Others have pointed out why you're mistaken regarding their goal, so either discount them ad hominem because they're experts, or address their points. I've attempted to show why there's no privileged access -- anyone with an audience can get the access, and does, especially with today's lowered barriers of entry.

You've done lots of barracking, but haven't addressed either part, so far. So either defend or amend your statements, and stop pissing about with the I-know-I-am-what-are-you.
posted by bonaldi at 6:47 AM on July 29, 2008


I've spent plenty of time responding, and I'm perfectly happy with it. There's no sense in anyone responding to your misunderstandings at length.

disreputable/publish-what-I-like/commenting/web-enabled hordes

versus

...want the power? Get the audience, whether they read you on paper, listen to your voice or browse your site.

That's the core of your problem right there. You're rife with inconsistencies.
posted by gimonca at 8:48 AM on July 29, 2008


I'm sure you are happy with ... oh, fuck it. All this mess is doing is proving the point at hand.

To get published in a newspaper, you need to clear a whole number of hurdles -- you have to be trained as a journalist, you have to be hired by the paper, your copy needs to pass their sub-editors and editors, and it has to meet certain standards for legality, ethics, objectivity, and sourcing.

To get a comment on a newspaper site, you have to have a keyboard. Yet the comments sit right next to the content that's rather harder to produce. And so here we are, just like in this thread: I'll wager half the readers of this thread think you're an idiotic chucklehead and wish you'd shut the fuck up; and the other half thinks I'm an arsy fucknuts who doesn't know when to quit and wishes I'd shut the fuck up.

But there's nothing to stop you battering out your selectively quoted point-avoiding drivel and me baiting you in reply apart from self-restraint, which clearly neither of us have nearly enough of. And little is added to the sum of human knowledge. It's not just us, the net's rife with the shit.

So why should newspaper sites bother with them at all? The barriers are too low, the fucknuts too many, the rewards too small.
posted by bonaldi at 9:13 AM on July 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'll wager half the readers of this thread think you're an idiotic chucklehead and wish you'd shut the fuck up; and the other half thinks I'm an arsy fucknuts who doesn't know when to quit and wishes I'd shut the fuck up.

Well, that I certainly agree with, although of course I'd state the proportions differently.

Comments on some newspaper sites I've frequented do indeed add little value, because much of the readership has already left for better venues.
posted by gimonca at 9:45 AM on July 29, 2008


Man, the makeup sex between you two is going to be incredible. This isn't about if journalists should or should not be gatekeepers or about webtertube2.0 social utopianism. It's about the same basic principle as anything else: if you're not willing to do some work to make your thing nice it's not going to be nice. If you're not going to do some work to make your comments section workable it's not going to be workable.

Don't throw a party and when the jerks show up just throw up your hands and declare parties evil. You need to either deal with the jerks or stop throwing parties. NPR was correct to stop having comments if they couldn't be bothered to do this basic thing.
posted by mrmorgan at 9:56 AM on July 29, 2008


Apologies, conflated NPR and This American Life.
posted by mrmorgan at 9:57 AM on July 29, 2008


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