Another side to “the war on comments”

As a counter-attack against “the war on comments”, Hannah Waldram has set up a Tumblr curating some of the ones that add value to news sites.

I really must find another topic to write about apart from comments on news websites, but until then…

I mentioned in “All inputs are people” on Friday that I hadn’t been to The Story, but that Rob Manuel had delivered an impassioned defence of “the bottom half of the internet”. Today, Hannah Waldram pointed me to an open letter he’d written that contains the thrust of his argument:

“The power structure is the columnist at the top of the page, and the horrible ‘pond life’ who do it for free at the bottom. Don’t read them, the columnists say. They say nasty things about us. Well of course they say nasty things. They’re given a smaller voice by the class system encoded into the very structure of article (top) + comment (bottom). All they can do is lob word bombs up the page whilst the columnist gets to write out their entire opinion at the top of the page and beam it to 100,000s of readers via a popular news site. My advice to high profile columnists is remember you are in a lucky privileged position.”

Rob’s talk has also prompted Hannah to publish her own personal blog post, as a “counter-attack to the war on online comments”, where she highlights the value the good comments have for the journalism at the Guardian, where her role is currently as a Community Co-ordinator.

“These commenters not only add invaluable insight and knowledge to the discussion – but they drive the story forward, give the journalists and newsdesk new ideas for follow ups, add new layers to our journalism and ultimately enrich what we do – tell stories (for which we need lots of knowledge, insight, analysis and information).”

She argues that to get at that value “you just need to be experienced in tuning out the rage/rants and one-liners and homing in on what is actually constructive or editorially valuable.”

As I’ve said before, I think the interactivity of comments, and the expanding number of voices that mainstream media facilitates being heard are a good thing. But it is incredibly wearing wading through people acting like dicks to get to them.

Hannah says that “the landscape is disconcertingly bereft of anyone standing up for comments” but wants to change that, and has set up a Tumblr to curate some of the ones that have proved journalistically useful or insightful. I think it is a great idea, and I hope that some of the hard-pressed and under-valued community management teams at news sites around the world will find the time to send in examples.

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