Comments Make Top-Down Journalism Obsolete

On news sites anymore, I skip articles with a gnawing sense of annoyance when I find they have no comments section.  Articles are limited in length and I find there’s no one person that knows so much that other people out there can’t expand on their points and further illuminate the topic.  Even where commenters are hysterical and stupid I get a valuable sense of the mood of the readership.
Comments serve as quality control.  I notice articles that lack a comment section are often opinion pieces with some wordy and smug aristocrat blowing wind out of their ass without having to face the contemptuous criticism they deserve.
When an article is poorly written, commenters point out the problems and shred it to pieces.  And when it’s well written they analyze and expand beyond what any one person has time for.

I often see the comments attract people far smarter and more experienced than the author. The very word “journalism” sounds like something limited to an age before the internet got big. That’s because the author of an article is no longer an authority talking down to the masses. They’re now just an OP that starts a discussion thread. It’s a good public service to start a thoughtful thread that attracts smart commenters, but it’s no longer a pulpit to form others’ opinions for them.
My parents still e-mail me articles from mainstream publications that either have no comments, or its obvious they didn’t read the comments section, where the piece they found value in is convincingly trashed and refuted by dozens of thoughtful people, or at least greatly refined and improved on.

Journalism remains as a sickly presence on life support mainly because older generations are stuck in their habits. But just as actual printed newspapers are disappearing, journalists recognized by society as ceremonial caretakers of truth with “expert” opinions will also phase out.
In a high-information world everyone can see the man behind the curtain and comments make it painfully obvious that average people on the street are often more knowledgable than the sheltered pets that write for big-name gatekeeper institutions. Well-connected mediocrities that have always hidden behind these information monopolies will not survive the transition.
Soon, only those who earn audiences will have them. There still are and will be gatekeepers—but they will only maintain their influence by maintaining their quality standards and jealously guarding their credibility.

I often hear disgust about comments and it’s true mob rule is no good. But the OP always gets to speak first without interruption even if there’s a crowd of thousands. I also find there is a natural justice in commentary. A low quality click-bait article attracts low quality commenters. A thoughtful piece tends to attract top notch analysis while the nature of its content weeds out people who just want to troll or scream in ALLCAPS.
The mob aspect of comments means it is a tool that has its proper uses. I might start out reading an article with its comments and later look up facts and numbers to see if what people are saying makes sense. I might find both the article author and the people are on the wrong track and come to my own conclusions. The psychology of why so many people are mislead creates interesting questions in itself.

The way crowdsourcing has developed through mediums like comments and wikis demonstrates how internet enables new ways of benefiting from the wisdom of the crowd while avoiding the downside of mob rule.
I suspect that the crowd structures we now use for navigating a broad range of opinions, or looking up facts will eventually prove useful to states that will be increasingly pressured to discover means of administration faster and more nimble than traditional bureaucracies.

By Giovanni Dannato

In 1547 I was burnt at the stake in Rome for my pernicious pamphlet proclaiming that the heavens were not filled with a profusion of aether, but rather an extensive vacuum.
Now, the phlogiston that composed my being has re-manifested centuries in the future so that I may continue the task that was inconveniently disrupted so long ago.
Now, I live in Rome on the very street where I (and others) were publicly burnt. To this day, the street is known as what I would translate as 'Heretic's Way'. My charming residence is number 6 on this old road. Please, do come inside and pay me a visit; I should be delighted to spew out endless pedagoguery to one and all...

3 replies on “Comments Make Top-Down Journalism Obsolete”

I dont even read the articles from yahoo/msn/nyt anymore. At best I may skim them. Usually I read the headline, skim, and go right to the comments, which are awfully more entertaining and informative than the article itself.

I remember 10 years ago I used to read whole articles with interest, but now they seem so bland and many times obviously slanted lies and mistruths.

As for the comments themselves, I find a lot of people support generally conservative ideas, but there could be a self selection effect going on there.

“OP always gets to speak first without interruption” is the essence. But the “first” part can get really muddled – by design – in social media. It’s not an accident that the infinite scrolling newsfeed filled with things of various topics, emotions, themes, and quality of content keeps showing up with those kinds of sites.

“Crowdsourcing” I think is a somewhat euphemistic way of saying it. It’s not inaccurate, certainly when comparing to the old ways, but even in the internet most things are centered around just a few people, or a few groups, which invariably use only one spokesman. More people have a higher chance at getting their “15 seconds of fame” but most Facebook traffic is from the same pages, most Twitter traffic from the same few accounts, and most quality blog posts from the same few bloggers. People are not equal, and the distribution of quality is not equal – people who are uninteresting tend to be generally uninteresting, and stuff worth your time is usually from the same set of people who create many other things worth your time.

I’ve recently stopped regularly checking Facebook and have started looking around blogs again, happily finding among others your blog still active after all these years, and my enjoyment reading the posts are, compared to social media, through the roof. Your points about the man behind the curtain being revealed are on the dot, but even so I think there is some inherent value to top-down. I’ve learned a lot from meeting people of various backgrounds and opinions through social media, but I think I would’ve learned even more if they all had blogs. I’ll admit it would’ve been harder to find them, so social media has marketing bonuses. But I think that’s where it ends.

Traffic centralizes on the internet but seems to find its place organically. Whereas top-down are journalists are often hired mouthpieces who try to trick people about what popular opinion actually is and push what elites want people to believe.

In the last months I’ve been establishing a social media presence for the first time. As far as I can tell, google has pretty much written off blogs, especially ones like mine where I don’t want to pay for and manage my own domain and hosting. I suspect there’s so many crappy free wordpress blogs people post to a few times and forget about, the whole oversaturated medium gets demoted in search.
I was getting most traffic by getting other bloggers to put me on their RSS feeds but felt like I was still getting very limited market exposure.
Social media has really been the next breakthrough I was looking for. I find it’s a way to advertise my “brand” and build up interest so then they’re curious enough to spend scarce time reading blog posts.

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