Why everyone should be ashamed of the infamous comment thread

If you haven’t yet read the comment thread on a recent entry by Tampa Tribune intern Jessica DaSilva, go do it now. There’s no better example of the emotionally charged internal battle that the newspaper industry is facing.

Seeing as I already expressed admiration for DaSilva’s blogging way before she suddenly became a celebrity, I’d certainly jump to DaSilva’s defense. She not only had the right to say what she did, she ought to be commended for being passionate enough to say it. We need passionate reformers more than anything.

But the comment thread is disheartening in more ways than I can count. Most obviously, those who didn’t like the entry went way overboard with the villainization, and I can only hope Jessica has learned that idiotic statements don’t mean a thing when you’re standing on solid ground.

Yet I find myself equally disturbed by the reaction on what you could call “my side,” the reformers seeking the best future for journalism. It was a blanket, unthinking defense of one of our own, no one seeming to acknowledge the blatantly obvious fact that the post was very much insensitive to those who lost their jobs. I haven’t heard a direct argument yet as to why those people’s feelings aren’t worthy of attention, or why it couldn’t have been made clearer that she understood the gravity of those losses. That part was missing from an otherwise fantastic post, and I can understand why its absence led to the reaction it got.

As it turns out, “my side” is every bit as guilty of bunkering itself off as the other side. We use labels like “curmudgeons” and “reactionaries” while not doing much to respectfully engage their arguments. Any time those kind of labels come into play, it’s a pretty clear signal to me that not much discussion is going to happen with the people who need to participate the most.

Jessica’s post was outstanding yet imperfect, which is no great offense since most everything is imperfect. I hope she’s holding her head as high as she deserves, because the point she was trying to make about the need for a plan was a good one.

The far greater problem is the distance between the people who read her post, and how few people are working to peacefully bridge the gap. And that includes “my side” with all of its counterproductive name-calling.

John Zhu had a great comment on an entry by Hilary Lehman:

The comments on Jessica’s blog show a definite split along age lines, with veterans mostly taking issue with her fawning over an editor who just laid off people and younger journalists mostly dismissing those criticisms as coming from dinosaurs despite not knowing any of the people who offered those criticisms. What’s more disturbing is that despite having almost 100 comments as of now, there is almost no substantive discussion of the actual criticisms. Instead of the two sides reaching across the battle line to discuss their viewpoints, they are pretty much just deepening the line in the sand, bunkering down in their respective corners, and trading verbal barbs. From that perspective, it seems that the “dinosaurs” and the “naive kids” are more alike than either would admit.

Unfortunately, that’s preceded by more ageism as someone else makes wild generalizations about twenty-somethings. Let’s not make age another battleground that we really don’t need.

  • I’m glad you decided to publish this post after all.

    The day before Jessie’s post went up, I posted about my fear of the bickering among journalists — which actually, you commented on. I feel vaguely psychic now.

    Thanks for saying what needed to be said. I think you did a good job of identifying what offended both sides. I find this especially disturbing since I thought journalism was supposed to be partly about seeing things from someone else’s point of view — guess not.

  • The comments about twentysomethings aren’t generalizations, though.

    For the most part, these people are getting jobs they are wholly unqualified for, mainly because they can be paid less. Then these people run around and brag about how much smarter they are.

    That’s why there’s such an extreme reaction to the tactless comments of the intern.

    But it is good to see you distancing yourself from the clueless Hats In Reverse bunch, which includes Mindy McAdams, Howie Owens, Pat Thornton, and all the people who try to sound smart but aren’t.

  • Elissa

    I have read much of the responses to Jessica’s post. Here is the deadnet. Yes, local coverage is very important. How you report it is the difference between just being a pundit or actually REPORTING the news. In the older days, Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite and others, set the standard for news reporting. The same was true earlier yet on the radio. The problem now is that although readers do want national and international news, we have the New York Times and all others online. Today, there is way too much imbalance as to what is pertinent. I will give you a local example. Here in Harrisburg, PA, the state capitol, we have so much coverage of American Idol, pop stars and sports, that space does not allow for the local coverage, whether it is news-oriented or community-related. The sad truth is that the majority of people can name every celebrity yet they know nothing about politics (local or national, the environment or many other pressing issues. As far as who one keeps on staff…that is a serious issue. As far as leaning towards the internet – I happen to believe, having been a publisher for 13 years, that is an obvious transition that needs attention. I do believe, however, that there can be a happy medium. Janet is not wrong, and Jessica is not wrong. Finding the perfect balance, by improving what is in print, and coupling that with the internet is the secret. Nothing new for sure. However, journalism has a creed and if we do not pay attention to that, we lose credibility, jobs, growth and the future. Let’s all remember America’s demographics. If you really believe that all people have a computer, you are wrong. Apprise, inform, educate and provide due diligence to covering local news – why? To improve, connect and strengthen our communities. There is a way to re-connect the community to get involved with the content of a publication. Their voices need to be heard – and surely, we have enough of this on the internet – but we need to remain inclusive – not exclusive. There is an answer – but we need to remember brotherhood and humanity – which equals economy, sustenance and profitability.

  • In general, I try to avoid generalities. I’m also not a fan of the rampant anonymity that seems to color the content of so many comment threads – but don’t quote me on that.

    Seriously, although I work in the same newsroom as Jessica, we haven’t worked together. For this reason – no, actually, for reasons of basic decency and decorum – I won’t leap to any conclusions about her judgment, her professionalism, her motives or even her spelling. Likewise, I won’t judge the motives of those who have commented on her post.

    I attended the same meeting that Jessica wrote about, and I’ve been finding it especially interesting to read the hard-and-fast opinions that have been formed on the basis of a single account. (OK, it’s possible, of course, that some of the anonymous commenters may have other well-informed sources. But how are we to know?)

    So, as far as I can tell, a good share of the commenters likely are drawing their deeply-held conclusions from a single source. Hmmmm. And, based on that information alone, we have been treated to a disheartening display of charges and counter-charges, name-calling and various forms of thrashing defensiveness. An editor – or, should I say, MY editor – has been accused of plagiarism, despite her unreported attribution of certain “plagiarized” comments. And an intern has been pelted with burning coals AND showered with bouquets of fragrant daisies.

    Most distressingly, comments have come from all sides in which complete strangers are labeled “clueless” and “naive” on the basis of … what? Precious little, I’m afraid. (Is there such a thing as a “naive dinosaur”? If so, I’m prepared to accept that slam.)

    Anyway, here’s what I know: When Jessica and I attended that meeting the other day, we were in the company of dozens of other trained journalists. And, if each of us had written a personal account of what we’d heard and observed, the stories likely would have been wildly different. One person might have misheard a quote, another might have flubbed a reference, another might have struggled to separate raw emotions from plain facts. And, if each of our stories had taken the form of a blog item (most likely without the considered input of a supervisor and/or copy editor), I suspect that a few words might have been misspelled.

    Which ought to surprise no one.

  • Would your account have included a call for people who had been laid off to “stop whining”? Just curious.

  • My account of an internal company meeting would have taken a different form entirely.

    Like Jessica’s account, it would have been conversational and opinionated. It would have been – and WAS – communicated to a limited audience: my wife.

    I don’t intend to take my account to a larger audience, electronically or on paper. I might share it with a few more people, face-to-face or over the phone, but that’s about it.

    If we’re having a conversation here, Wenalway: No, I don’t think the phrase “stop whining” would have sprung to mind.

  • What about the phrase “You go girl”?

  • Good post Daniel.

    I have found the thread to be incredibly interesting, and it may be a flash point for all the anger and discord within journalism. It’s almost like the industry is tearing itself apart from within.,

    It also seems to be a post with comments mostly from lower- and mid-level journalists bickering back and forth, even though the decisions that have set this industry back where made by other people.

  • “It also seems to be a post with comments mostly from lower- and mid-level journalists bickering back and forth, even though the decisions that have set this industry back where made by other people.”

    Pat: Go buy yourself a clue. Your ignorance of what other people have accomplished does not excuse your repeated, non-factual comments.

    Go get some intel, then come back and tell us if you “where” wrong or not.

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  • Elissa

    You will all please forgive me for this, but the amount of typos from the posted journalists are way above what is acceptable. And, it is my opinion that the journalists are not imploding. The issue is that media has been taking a huge curve which no one could foresee properly. No different than the poor infrastructure (roads, bridges, etc.) we have in our communities coast to coast. The current infrastructure is from lack of foresight, lack of seeing the population growth. Why do you think many people are finally getting the message about the environment??? Many of us have waited for 20+++ years. So, just like that problem, there are answers and none ever come from bickering.
    I wish you all well. Think well. Do well.

  • The arguing about typos on a blog is one I don’t like. Typos happen, and on a personal blog, that’s OK. If you’re blogging for a news organization, that’s a different story.

    As far as the rest of the commenters: I’m glad this started a discussion, but very little discussing happened. Too much anger and fear. And the blackballing thing pissed me off. That’s a very bad threat to make, especially for someone trying to make a living in what I still think is a noble and necessary profession.

  • Ricky:

    Sorry, those aren’t typos. There’s a big difference. I sometimes make typos myself, generally because I type very fast, sometimes on bad keyboards (like now), and also because I dislocated a finger a few years ago.

    I get no mercy in those cases. But typing “layed” instead of “laid” is not a typo, especially when it’s done more than once.

  • So… wait a minute; this means war?

    This is one of those cases where everyone is so wrong about certain things, the valid points they might make are lost. I won’t even know why I’m commenting.

    But I guess I’ll address the typos discussion (and hopefully avoid them in the process.)

    First: Attacking an argument for its typos (or bona fide misspellings) instead of its lack of merit is usually a sign that the argument has some validity. Attacking one’s spelling acumen or even their intelligence does not affect the point they’re trying to make. If it is the ideas that bother you, it is the ideas you must reject.

    Second: Don’t make typos. Don’t misspell words. You’ll look unprofessional and unintelligent. If you’re a blogger, you can easily buddy up with someone who will copy edit your stuff. With my primary blog right now, I have the luxury of being part of a two-man operation. We clue each other into mistakes, and I think we’re running a pretty typo-free blog. It’s important. “You’ll lose your credibility,” isn’t just some idle threat made by old professors. Every time I encounter an error, it makes an impact. Police yourself, please.

  • Ryan:

    Let’s get the first one out of the way: “First: Attacking an argument for its typos (or bona fide misspellings) instead of its lack of merit is usually a sign that the argument has some validity.” That makes no sense. If it’s written poorly and people point that out, that gives it validity? Um, OK.

    I agree with most of the rest of your post. In my earlier post, I was merely trying to delineate the difference between not knowing how to spell a word/not bothering to look it up and simply typing it incorrectly.

    Continuing this part of the discussion, though, obscures the real point: The intern made herself look foolish with a poorly thought-out, poorly written, tactless entry. The people who think that laying off some workers while keeping the same management is innovative really need to get a clue and a half. That’s where Jessica really dropped the ball with her clueless, unfiltered idolation of the person delivering the bad news.

  • Attacking an argument based on typos is symptomatic of an inability to sort wheat from chaff. If a commenter can’t be bothered to read the argument and respond to the argument, but instead picks on the typos, that tells me that the person is most likely either being lazy, small-minded or both.
    The level of typos does not have a lot to do with the argument, unless the spelling and grammar become so atrocious that one cannot even discern what the argument is (and sadly, given the downward drift in writing standards on the Internet, this is sometimes true).

  • Translation of Graham’s post: blahblahblahnopointblahblahblahrepeatsamethingsblahblahblahblah.

    Lots of chaff there. Not much wheat.

  • Greetings from someone about to bid farewell to around a quarter of his colleagues.

    It’s mutate or die, folks. And nothing we say or do will ever change that. So I would humbly submit that instead of shooting a young journalist for speaking her mind we ought to be praising her for having the gumption to do so.

    After all, we all want this industry to survive right? And it’d be nice if it were filled with people who are enthusiastic about what they do.

    And also I defy any of the grizzled veterans amongst us to prove that they weren’t young and naive once as well.

    It’s nice to know that, at 38, there’s still a bench to rely on.

    And spare me the sanctimony about the young author’s spelling skills. How many of you habitually misspell stuff?

    For me, commercial is invariably commerical before I go back and run the spell-check. You’re going to crucify her for that?

    Oh … and I ‘blog …

    John Micek
    The Allentown Morning Call

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  • Neetcreaple

    Nothing seems to be easier than seeing someone whom you can help but not helping.
    I suggest we start giving it a try. Give love to the ones that need it.
    God will appreciate it.

  • Moniboniz

    Hello… 😉

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  • kevin james

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