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Comments About Comments

I'm writing today about the reaction of our Readers Who Comment to an op-ed column that ran in last Friday's Washington Post in which I defended anonymous unmoderated comments.

Several readers asked if Post reporters are required to read the comments on their articles. The answer is no, but some do. In my opinion, those who don't are making a mistake. Colleagues from other news organizations tell me that an intervening comment by a reporter can quell the storm in an inappropriate comment string, as too often happens in articles about race, immigration or welfare-eligible people.

And I'm going to confess to a carelessly worded paragraph of my own. I wrote that "The first day it became clear that a federal bailout of Wall Street was a real prospect, the comments on the main story were almost 100 percent negative. It was a great predictor of how folks feel, well out in front of the polls." Our polling department had a problem with that and wrote in its Behind the Numbers blog that "Adding up unfiltered remarks is not a substitute for solid polling." I stand corrected. Reader comments bear no resemblance to a scientific poll.

We'll start with badgervan, who wrote, "Many of the Post's writers have admitted that they don't read the comments about their own product. This tells us a lot about the sad state of professional journalism today..."

But mikem1 said, "...Yes, there are sometimes good, funny, insightful comments, but the noise to signal ratio is extraordinarily high. I don't think writers at the Post are missing much by skipping the comments."

jmcauli1 wrote, "Well, it only took this late-to-the-party-fool Feaver how many years to get it right? Scant wonder most papers are going bankrupt...The real question now is how does the WaPo monetize the "community" of commenters. Well, one way that comes to mind is to ADVERTISE IT..."

Midwester said, "I find it quite amusing that "many in the newsroom" are most concerned that comments posted are anonymous. I guess the use of anonymous sources is acceptable only when it applies to many of the stories written by Washington Post reporters..."

mot2win wrote, "...it IS important that regular folks like us are allowed a forum to let it all hang out. But for far too long, I'd bluntly tell you, the dark forces have been in there, in the media, and the ability to challenge them directly is indeed a blessing..."

mhoust said, "...On-line blogs and commentary are the modern equivalent of the town meeting. And man, there have been to some town meetings where the vitriol would make the worst blogs look like a sedate Sunday school religious class. Threats, name calling, even impromptu fisticuffs happen on occasion. And, like on-line blogs and commentaries, town meeting behaviors are also self-correcting."

forestbloggod wrote, "i love the Post, for better and for worse. the ability to speak, to challenge, and to add to the debate on this site is what keeps me coming back. please keep it going. the hate speech and ignorance is easily balanced and tempered by poignant remarks, added links and information, and the sheer entertainment value of it all."

ethanquern wrote, "...we can speak more freely under the mask of anonymity than we ever could if we had to step from behind that mask. Who among us would have been so foolish as to rant and rave about the former administration if we thought our comments could be traced? And do I think these comments had an effect on the political winds of this country? You betcha!"

nicekid said, "I comment regularly, at Washingtonpost.com because it's a place to react to the news that I am powerless to affect... The government doesn't care what I think, I know that The Washington Post doesn't really care what I think, but it does provide a place to express my feelings, and makes me feel a little less frustrated--not a lot, but a little..."

dgward44 wrote, "Mr. Feaver misses the point. 'Unmoderated comments' present no problems to the reader and only highlight the idiocy of the disturbed writers. What is despicable are editorial boards and columnists whose "unmoderated" writings are nothing less than outright propaganda, subtle racism and outright lies!..."

jhbyer said, "...The real beauty of online comments is none of us has to "listen". We're just a click away from another "world". Still, those who care to "listen" are guaranteed an unique education in the thinking of their fellow earthlings."

DwightCollins wrote, "one truth is, wapo helped elect obama without vetting him... if he screws up, it's because wapo put him in the position to do so...
truth is, wapo doesn't want to be held accountable..."

To which mikem1 replied, "Truth? This is truth? No, this is an opinion shared mostly by the part of the electorate that lost the last presidential election."

bmedero said, "...I don't think traditional newspapers can adapt... What is obsolete is not the printing press, but the people and culture that grew around the paper press, a one way preach from the pulpit self declared inteligencia, you guys will follow the path of professors of Latin and Greek"

ahneff1 wrote, "As ugly as these anonymous comments can be (and are), they belong in the markeplace of ideas, in the sunlight of public debate."

willow_42 said, "I don't mind comments that incorporate thought, even outraged thought, but I find the racist, sexist, vitriolic, shallow mutterings from crackpots to be a pain in the butt. I don't think they add anything to the discussion or society in general, except to make me afraid to go outside knowing that these creeps and freaks are actually out there..."

zippyspeed wrote, "...it would have been nice for this article to acknowledge that there are just as many crazed liberal wackos out there as evil 'racists'. I'm as appalled by the pro-Hamas and anti-American comments I read here as others apparently are by comments questioning why the Post can't ever bring itself to refer to illegal aliens as anything other than 'undocumented immigrants'."

JulioT said, "The fact that WP reader's comments are seen immediately gives the unique opportunity for real opinion exchange and further enrichment of the published article..."

ChristopherEarle wrote, "In many ways, I fundamentally disagree with the idea that allowing people to post unmoderated, unedited comments is a social good. The damage racist comments to far outweighs the social good they bring. Anyone who has deluded themselves into thinking racism is gone is, well, deluded..."

vbdietzsaid, "...Now you understand why and how so many people have been drawn into the political process by the simple act of being able to respond with their own thoughts on political blogs like Daily Kos and RedState...Watching the comment stream brings reality into the process in a very visceral way. It's not pretty but it is real and at times, it can really surprise you with wit, with poignancy, with vision..."

fairfaxvoter wrote, "...You are giving a megaphone to a totally unrepresentative, tiny number of hate mongers who very often do not read the article they are supposedly "commenting" on. We know they are a tiny number because they are regular characters (if under anonymous nicknames) who post reliably and instantly whenever one of their hate objects, like the president, is mentioned..."

metavosk said, "...I'd like to see you guys leverage some of the discussion technologies that are out there so we can get more out of the conversation... Sometimes, I want to follow an intelligent, well-considered and well-cited discourse. Sometimes, I just want to see what the whackjobs are in a tizzy about today ;)"

TomJeferson wrote, "...Moderation may be needed, but it will be a filter and has its own negative effects of censoring readers and forums for the exchange people interested in the news. Personally, I think comments should be uncensored. Forums have a way of self-correcting..."

Gladiator2008 said, "...We're quite a long way from the Jeffersonian ideal of a Utopian democracy where everyone participates through reasoned argument, but maybe if these boards were policed more carefully, they could be used to advance us a bit closer to that goal."

We'll close with this exchange:

del3 wrote, "I am adamantly opposed to on-line commenting. It is something I have never done nor will I ever engage in the loathsome practice."

WilliamBlake wrote, "Thank you. Your on line comment is appreciated and has been reported to the appropriate authorities."

All comments on this article about comments are here.

By Doug Feaver  |  April 13, 2009; 8:10 AM ET
Categories:  Journalism  | Tags: Comments, Journalism  
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Next: Readers Back Repeal of Gay Ban for Military

Comments

"DwightCollins wrote, "one truth is, wapo helped elect obama without vetting him... if he screws up, it's because wapo put him in the position to do so...
truth is, wapo doesn't want to be held accountable..."

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Well when DwightCollins posts you get a real good picture of the denial of the right wing comments in the Washington Post which is futher demostrated by the posts you picked. It's a hoot, but real information is picked up and you can only wonder if they even absord it

Posted by: ORNOT | April 13, 2009 3:01 PM | Report abuse

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