Illustration of Derek Powazek by Adam Ellis

Concluding the Comment Culture Clash Cacophony

Jeff Jarvis sums up the debate nicely with an open letter to Bob Garfield.

But note well, my friend, that all of these people are speaking to you with intelligence, experience, generosity, and civility. You know what’s missing? Two things: First, the sort of nasty comments your own piece decries. And second: You.

His closing thoughts led me to think about the long view of this debate and post this:


We’ve had hundreds of years of experience in the newspaper industry that have taught us how to take the messy thoughts in a writer’s head and translate them into news. This process involves humans (interviewees, editors, copyeditors) and machines (typewriters, computers, printing presses).

We’ve had less than 20 years of experience taking the messy thoughts in the heads of readers online and translating them into posts. Is it any wonder we’re still figuring it out?

And I don’t just mean technology. I mean process, etiquette. Bob keeps ringing the “you didn’t even read it!” bell, but how would he know? Maybe the story didn’t do the job of communicating well enough.

You have to take a systematic approach. The system of journalism has hundreds of years of experimentation to learn from. Online, we’ve got about a dozen. We’ve made some progress – and Bob’s story would have been better had he included it – but there’s a long road ahead still.

We’ll figure it out. And conversations like this are part of that process.


Elsewhere, Meg Pickard from the Guardian UK comes in with a fantastic post that reminds us that good community systems are tripods with three legs: Human, Technical, and Editorial. You have to focus on all three to be successful.

I look forward to hearing if any of this outpouring of experience makes it into future episodes of On The Media. I’ll be listening, and talking back, for years to come.


PREVIOUSLY: This is Not a Comment and 10 Ways Newspapers Can Improve Comments

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Hi, I’m Derek. I used to make websites. Now I grow flowers and know things. I’m mostly harmless. More.