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”?