"The Lowest Comment Denominator"
We’re all about the First Amendment here at The Washington Post, but there has been some debate about the comments we let readers post at the end of stories and blog posts here on the web site. The comments can be vitriolic, to say the least. In 2007, then-Post ombudsman Deborah Howell said the comments “can be raw, racist, sexist and revolting." When one of the subjects of my story came under attack (“What scum,” one reader wrote), I worried in a recent blog post here on Story Lab that the comments might scare off sources.
Now, columnist Gene Weingarten jumps into the comments fray with one of his reader polls (scroll to the third question), asking: “In The Washington Post and other online news sources, should people who file comments to online stories be required to identify themselves?”
As of Tuesday afternoon, 762, or 39 percent, voted Yes; 922, or 47.5 percent, said No. Not a scientific survey, to be sure, but an interesting insight into how a fairly large group of readers--albeit one skewed by its passion for things Gene--regards the issue.
Here’s Gene’s take from his online chat, chatological humor:
"I'm ambivalent about the Comments. I LIKE hearing from the frothing nutcakes -- I think it's both entertaining and illuminating. And I'd be in favor of completely unfettered Comments, except for those that are utterly toxic. The ideal solution is to have nearly instant editing, but it's not practical; it would require a greater commitment of resources than any newspaper could realistically commit these days.
"So, I dunno. I'm torn. The vile stuff is ... vile. It should not see the light of day. When a newspaper allows it up there, it is passively condoning it."
He went on to say that it’s “wrong to read them expecting, say, an elucidation or elaboration or logical refutation of the original article. You must read them as entertainment, and as a way to take the pulse of the lowest comment denominator.”
What do you think? The comments board is below.
| March 24, 2010; 10:12 AM ET
Categories: Hard choices, Journalism , More on the story
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