Over the past few days, in unrelated situations, it has become clear that the worst part of any piece of news coverage is the comments section attached to it. Maybe it’s time for news organizations to consider whether the extra page views are worth it?
Last week, I worked around the clock for a client that knew an adverse situation was coming. The goal was to work to ensure that its message was included to help balance negative news stories. In reviewing the coverage, it was clear that the objective was achieved until someone on the client side decided to delve into what has become the seedy underbelly of online journalism – the comments section.
Later that day, a member of my family was the subject of news coverage. The news stories themselves reflected very positively and served as a source of pride for all of us. That is until I ignored the advice I typically give clients and looked at the comments on Facebook, where one of the articles was posted.
Two days later, a journalist I know and respect used his time on an opinion-driven TV show to let his audience know, for the first time, that he is gay. In a subsequent article, he referred to the online comments about his bold commentary as “vulgar.”
Since the advent of online news, reader comment forums have been a gathering place for the negative, disgusting, ignorant and attention-starved. Most journalists I know are embarrassed by them. An effort in recent years to move away from anonymous posting and a use of real names (via Facebook accounts) has not helped these sections attain a higher level of civility. Rather than being representative of a dialogue that furthers an issue, they are typically outlets for society’s fringes.
Too many subjects of stories look to the comments section for some sort of analysis of public reaction. That must stop. The vast majority (an educated guess would be 98%, if talk radio is a guide) of regular readers will never post a comment.
If you or your organization is the subject of a news story, don’t read the comments. Resist temptation. Don’t give into the urge. All it will do is disturb you. But if you can’t help yourself, don’t let them cause you any stress. They are simply not representative of anything, other than a subset of a subset of readers.