Where can you feast on a smorgasbord of vitriol mixing politics, religion, race, gender and pretty much any hot-button issue? The answer is at your fingertips.
Thanks to the advent of reader comments, the hassle of writing and mailing a letter to the editor is gone. With a few seconds’ effort, readers’ opinions appear right below an online news piece. Very often these comments seem to do any or all of the following:
* Incite more reaction than the article itself.
* Morph into a heated argument that has zilch to do with the story.
* Fill your screen with name-calling and foul language.
* Take considerable liberties with the truth.
As a journalist my responsibility is to present all sides of an issue, and I completely support a forum where everyone can weigh in. Many news outlets’ sites, such as this newspaper’s impose reader-comment guidelines to keep the conversation civil and on topic. Whether you agree or disagree with what I or other commentators write, at least we can respect each other.
Yet too many publications permit an open-season environment. Although a number of comments I’ve sampled are creative, thoughtful and often humorous, many others simply seek shock value. That grows old real quick for me, ruining what could have been a great dialogue.
What vexes me most is the anonymity people enjoy when user names are the only identification required for posting. That allows the cowards to emerge, launching cheap shots while hiding behind their keyboards — folks who I sense are far more educated than many of the comments would indicate.
So, I propose a simple question for anyone interested in entering the reader-comment fray. Would you dare say to somebody’s face what you’re tempted to put online? The answer is likely the difference between integrity and cowardliness.