Is there hope for reader comments on newspaper sites?

I was familiar with The Guardian’s report on harassment in its reader comments. Unfortunately I didn’t find it surprising or shocking.

Hate and the freedom to express hate is all too common.

So I only half listened to the On the Media interview with Mary Hamilton, Executive Editor for Audience at The Guardian, about the bottom of the comments barrel. That is until Bob Garfield mentioned his column that used to run in The Guardian and the comments it attracted.

He felt like the commenters came to interact with each other rather than comment on his column. He got the sense he was hosting a community.

Hamilton agreed. And she cited the community that formed around the crossword puzzle. The commenters were regulars who got to know each other, held meet ups in real life and produced a theme song.

Hamilton’s example didn’t surprise me. Crosswords are that kind of interest that draws communities of interest. Smaller, focused groups can form into communities that make you feel good about this thing called the Internet.

Newspaper comments usually don’t.

In my theory of reader comments, newspaper audiences aren’t good places for community.

  • The audience is a large group.
  • The members have a diverse set of interests and viewpoint.
  • The nature of journalism is about broadcast not conversation.

But according to Garfield, his column became a site for community gathering. I have no reason to doubt him, so I will believe that is what happened. Even though it goes against my theory.

Probably because I don’t know how The Guardian comments are run. Who is in them? And I don’t know any more than what’s at the bottom of the barrel.

So maybe I can find out why I’m wrong. And maybe I’m a little bit right.


Originally published at CarlNatale.com.