All of the talk here and elsewhere on news site comments lately has had my brain working overtime. It’s obvious from all the, heh, commentary, that the content of news website comments is a big thorn in the side of most journalists and steadfast news junkies. I hear about it every day.
“That’s not conversation.”
“They don’t represent the community at all.”
Or do they?
It isn’t a possibility I as a member of the human race would like to face, but what if these comments that we insist only come from fringe corners of the mean old interwebs really do represent our communities?
Consider this… When I encounter particularly prolific, appalling or trollish accounts on Cincinnati.Com, I’ll look up their IP address to see if they’re posting from our coverage area. In these random hunts, I have never found one that wasn’t local.
For better or worse, these members do represent part of the readership we claim to serve. As ugly as it might be, they are part of the fabric of this community, so should we as a news organization and conversation hub be trying to suppress their opinions?
We know, at the very least, they represent the most vocal and opinionated elements of the community. They simply care more than those who oppose them.
So how much responsibility does the community itself bear for allowing toxic, racist, partisan trolls to represent the coverage area at large? If the rest of the community has a problem with their viewpoints, registration on Cincinnati.Com is free. Why not take them on? At the very least, you to are free to correct them and share your views, too. You can’t let the crazies win.
I don’t necessarily believe this, of course. I know good moderation, staff interaction and better comment tools can help shape comments into conversation. These are, however, the sort of questions we have to be asking ourselves if we as journalists really want to be part of the communities in which we live and work.
“These people” are out there. Some are subscribers. All are readers. Chew on that for a bit and let me know what you think.