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.