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LTE: The witterings of old farts

by Frank Schnittger Sat Apr 30th, 2016 at 12:46:07 PM EST

Dear Sir,
Your correspondent, Donald Clarke, (My 10 cents on newspaper comments sections, Fri. 22nd. April) takes advantage of a suspension of readers comments on Irishtimes.com to have a whinge at, yes, you guessed it, reader comments on newspapers.

He has discovered, apparently to his shock and horror, that many reader comments are rude, abusive, or ill-informed.  He wants to read the views of expert  columnists, under the supervision of wise editors, and not the drivellings of the great unwashed.

Fair enough, but no one is forcing him to scroll down the page to the comments section.

Strangely enough, my experience has been almost the exact opposite. Formal newspaper columnists tend to dish out the same ideas, again and again, in a number of different guises on different topics.

You can generally predict what the writer is going to say on any given topic if you are familiar with his or her previous work. Sometimes their articles amount to little more than the witterings of old farts...

Readers comments, on the other hand, are often a joy to behold: witty, informed, controversial, outspoken - without the "both siderism" , equivocation, and faux objectivity  so often characteristic of their supposed betters on staff.

Of course there are also those comments which cross the line into unacceptable personal abuse, but most commenting systems have functionality to report those comments and exclude them from the discourse.

Some commenting systems even become largely self-regulating by enabling fellow readers to downrate and exclude a comment where a number of readers have found it to be offensive.

Other commenting systems allow readers to promote other readers' comments they have found to particularly incisive or informative to a more prominent position at the top of the comments section.

The Guardian recently did a study which found that of their ten most abused authors, 8 were women,  6 were non-white, three were gay and two were of a non Christian religion.  (Note to arithmetic nitpickers:  an author can belong to several categories!)

Of course this is unacceptable. In total, 2% of their 140 million comments to date were deemed to violate their community standards and were eliminated from the discourse.

Adding commenting and blogging functionality to irishtimes.com has, in my view, been one of the great enhancements of your digital offering. I often find the comments more enlightening than the lead article.  Frequently they correct errors that the lead author has made, hopefully, before the article has made it to print.

The Irishtimes.com thus gets free content, free fact checking, free marketing feedback on what its readers like, read, and think, and more readers as a wider community engages with the Irish Times and with each other.

What's not to "like"?


Display:
depends how the comments work.

The Guardian system is terrible with no nesting and the complete absence of internal dialogue. So there's no development of ideas as there is on ET.

I think that would also make self-policing difficult because there's no point following the comment stream.

And I think there are problems with anonymous commenters, I think that in a commercial space it's in the interests of the owners to ensure that commenters are verified.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue May 3rd, 2016 at 04:18:23 PM EST
There is some dialogue on Guardian comments as I have participated in it, but the absence of visual nesting doesn't help.  The Irish Times has just restricted commenting to paying subscribers which has severely reduced the volume of comments, but should also make anonymous commenting a little more difficult.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue May 3rd, 2016 at 06:13:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"The Irish Times has just restricted commenting to paying subscribers" Sounds like the usual problems of a paywall will ensue : potential free content will stay away with enthusiasm.

Opit's LinkFest! Samples from the Online Menu
by opit (opit@operamail.com) on Sun May 22nd, 2016 at 02:43:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"Readers comments, on the other hand, are often a joy to behold: witty, informed, controversial, outspoken ..."

Send me in, coach!  😇

They tried to assimilate me. They failed.

by THE Twank (yatta blah blah @ blah.com) on Wed May 4th, 2016 at 06:16:52 PM EST


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