Whenever I am asked why I don’t go into the comments sections of any of my published work, my response is immediate and in the form of a question: “Why do you hate me?” I am black, gay, work in media and have private student loans. Have I not suffered enough?
For years now, many of my colleagues have rightly regarded the comments sections of various outlets as cesspools. As someone who writes for black and mainstream sites, let me assure you that when it comes to the comments section, no matter which water fountain you sip from, it’s all spit and old bacon grease.
If you’re not being trolled by someone from Gouda Gaddafi’s basket of deplorables, you’re dealing with someone who believes that Dr. Umar Johnson actually has something valid to say or who thinks you and the source of your erections both need Jesus. In the age of “self-care,” I try to avoid actions that result in voluntary acts of torture.
However, a new report earlier this month claims that readers want more journalists to respond to them in the comments section.
In a survey that spans readers from 20 separate U.S.-based news organizations across various mediums (print to broadcast to digital), 81 percent of commenters said that they would like to see reporters clarify factual questions in the comments section. Additionally, an average of 73 percent of respondents said they wanted “experts” on topics to weigh in in the comments section. And about half claim that they wanted journalists to highlight “quality comments.”
As Nieman Lab notes in its story about the survey, which was jointly produced by the Engaging News Project at the University of Texas and the Coral Project, the Washington Post has started launching such endeavors—creating an email newsletter that highlights top reader comments and discussion threads.
I’m not a reporter, but when I was commissioned to write a piece for the Washington Post about Andrew Harrison’s use of “nigga,” I smartly ignored the comments section. Of course, my friends trolled me anyway and sent me sample comments. Most of them were from white people whining about why it’s a double standard that we colored folk dare create a colloquialism with an alternate meaning of a racial slur, but it’s unfair that they can’t partake.
Good luck to those political reporters who have to answer the questions of people in the age of our 45th president, a basket case who challenges facts at every turn to the delight of his equally dumb flock.
Some will say that there are indeed comments sections less obnoxious than the average. Like say, Kinja.
Whenever I wrote for Gawker, I was “encouraged” to go into the comments section and respond to readers. It wasn’t completely bad, but when I wrote about Bernie Sanders irritating me as of late, I got bombarded on Twitter, Facebook and email about it. Bless everyone’s heart who felt that strongly about it, but I’m not in the habit of spending significant amounts of time responding to things like white people telling me that I’m privileged as if they’re still not white.
To quote Sheree Whitfield, “Hell to the nah to the nah-nah-nah.”
The only site I can think of that doesn’t have a comments section that makes me want to cry out to Black Jesus to ask why he won’t smite these damn fools is Very Smart Brothas.
Still, I typically read the essay and go back to minding my black-ass business. I just don’t trust most internet commenters. Too many people use anonymity to unleash things they dare not say to someone’s face. Way too many folks are under the unfortunate assumption that writers owe the reader more than what they’ve been contracted to write. Not enough grasp that anything beyond what was written is a bonus.
In a statement about the survey, Andrew Losowsky said: “Comments are all too often under-resourced and ignored in newsrooms. This survey demonstrates a huge opportunity for conversations that bring journalists and their audiences closer together.”
Perhaps more will heed this survey and become more active participants in the seventh circle of hell. I won’t, though. I may respond to your tweets, emails or Facebook messages, but you best watch the tone.