After several years now of reading the comments posted at the end of Clarion stories, I've come to the conclusion that this privilege is not just misused, but abused by total cowards. And I make this statement not just in regard to my own stories.
The purpose of the comments section is to allow readers to provide meaningful insight about the topic at hand, such as pointing out some facet of the subject that perhaps the writer may have overlooked, but could revisit during a follow-up story.
It's also a place for constructive criticism, but not just criticisms for the sake of being malicious. That's not to say that only comments agreeing with the subject should be posted. The comment section is a good place for people to tactfully post why they may not agree with something that was written.
As reporters, we are charged with being objective, so hearing from people who feel contrary to something that was written may again give us more insight into ways to better balance the subject next time, and possibly even a contact for it when people respond by leaving their name.
Sadly, though, the vast majority of people that take the time to respond at the end of stories are nothing more than vultures or chickens, I haven't fully decided which:vultures for the way they love to descend on the writer (or worse yet one of the subjects in the story) and attempt to pick them apart like the literal bald-headed birds picking a carcass down to a skeleton; chickens for the way the always seem to not use their full names. Their Internet anonymity gives them license to make all the hurtful comments they are too scared to say for themselves, and without any accountability.
It's not enough for these cowards to just be mean and maligning either, there's always the arrogant air to their comments. It's obvious they are speaking about the inferiority of others as just a clever way to speak about our own perceived superiority. It's sad they don't subscribe to the belief that those who are genuinely superior don't brag about it, while those who believe they are inferior pretend to be otherwise.
Another of my least favorites are those I have termed "the left-brained word/grammar fetishists" who after reading 15 to 30 inches of a news story about some recent, upcoming or important event, take the time to send a message saying that in one of the 23 times I used the words "its" or "it's" I mixed one of them up.
I don't know what these people do for a living that they have got it down to perfection, but in a reporter's line of work where we are literally reading and writing thousands of words a day, every day, you're going to have a few errors, usually related to working quickly for a deadline.
All of these people's actions remind me of an old proverb that states, "If you're out to beat a dog, you're sure to find a stick." Readers who truly have something they believe is important to say, should take the time to make a meaningful comment that details what they believe is wrong, why it is wrong, what they believe is right or what could be done better, and they should be willing to identify themselves in doing so.
By offering up comments -- that aren't abusive -- whether in favor or opposed to the subject, it gives the reporter and everyone else reading them much more to think about, which in the end is the point of reading and contributing to a community newspaper.
Joseph Robertia is a reporter for the Clarion. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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