From Grad School to The Atlantic: Public Discourse & Comment Sections
February 27, 2015 2:48 PM   Subscribe

Anyone who writes articles on the web knows the maxim: "Don’t read the comments." Fortunately for Yoni Appelbaum, a recent Ph.D. in history from Brandeis University, the well-known writer Ta-Nehisi Coates routinely ignores that rule.
How a history Ph.D. who was on the tenure-track market ended up in with a pretty good gig in journalism, primarily because of the quality of his comments.
posted by Toekneesan (8 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Related: a history of the development of Coates' comments section, affectionately known as The Horde. Applebaum's ascent through the ranks is mentioned in the piece.
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:21 PM on February 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

From the piece NoxAternum liked to: "in June 2010, Coates asked Appelbaum to turn a long comment he’d posted about Ulysses S. Grant into a standalone blog post."

I'd been reading TNC for well over a year when Applebaum's guest post ran. Coates kept talking up his commenters, and the high quality of discussion. But I never bothered to click through into those threads. It was partly a dislike of Disqus, but mostly my disbelief that any comment section could be worthwhile (present company excepted, of course). The guest post is what finally got me to start reading the comments, and it really was informative and insightful. Some kind of damned Internet miracle.

Good on Applebaum for being part of that, and for his new promotion. I wish him well.
posted by Banknote of the year at 3:39 PM on February 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

Getting a gig from the quality of your comments sounds to me more or less like having Hagrid show up at your door at age 11 and tell you you're going to Wizard school and you have a lot of gold.

Which may be as much about the quality of my comments as anything else, I suppose.
posted by weston at 3:58 PM on February 27, 2015 [18 favorites]

Hey uh if anybody out there wants to hire a blog commenter to produce tweaky, odd, overwritten, often heavily footnoted propaganda...
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 4:13 PM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

In other Ta-Nehisi Coates news, not only did he recently win the 2014 Polk Award for Commentary for (what else?) his blockbuster "Case for Reparations", he also wrote a very touching rememberance of David Carr which (to bring it back to the subject of this post) includes the following:
And I know that even I, who am no longer a young writer, do not always wear my best face for young writers. And among the many things I am taking from David’s death is to be better with young writers, and young people in general. Because every single time some editor shoved me down, David picked me back up.
posted by mhum at 4:52 PM on February 27, 2015 [5 favorites]

I was a very minor member of the Horde for a while (until webfiltering at work broke Disqus completely), and yeah, it was a great little community.

In the end it was, as the articles above note, a victim of its own success: OTANs (Open Thread At Noon) would fill up in 20 minutes, and as TNC got more & more high-profile, it became harder & harder to navigate or moderate the comments.

But I remember the days of Cynic's epic, detailed, nuanced comments.
posted by suelac at 6:46 PM on February 27, 2015

Guess I won't quit my day job.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 5:53 AM on February 28, 2015

Great post! We got to discuss this with Ta-Nehisi during the time he was at MIT, and if we had stayed, we might have been able to talk him into leading a class focused on comments. Here's my blog post from a talk he gave early in his time at MIT, where we discussed the horde.

I personally believe that there are more of these amazing commenting communities than is often acknowledged, and that they *can* be maintained over time. Mefi has long inspired that belief.
posted by honest knave at 8:41 AM on February 28, 2015

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