The Chicago Sun-Times has suspended all commenting on articles because, in their words, comments sections have become “an embarrassing mishmash of fringe ranting and ill-informed, shrill bomb-throwing” and “a morass of negativity, racism, hate speech and general trollish behaviors that detract from the content." They plan to reactivate them when they can develop a system that will “foster a productive discussion.”
My baseball blog has a comments section and always has. When it was small it was really great, but as it has gotten more popular and well-trafficked It’s become about 80-90% garbage. This used to bother me, but I’ve come to accept that, with comments, assholes are a feature, not a bug. A pretty important feature, actually.
I like having a comments section. For all the jerks, there are still people who will point out my errors in respectful fashion and challenge me to rethink things on a regular basis. That, in my view, is the whole purpose and promise of the Internet in general and blogging specifically. My blog is called HardballTalk, not HardballListenToMeDictateToYou.
The antiquated and obsolete quarters of the baseball writing community got that way because they were ensconced in cushy columnist gigs, mostly immune from criticism and interaction with readers. They became ossified in their thinking because they were never challenged. They have reacted sharply and negatively to criticism because, well, how dare one criticize?
Comments sections (and social media) are not polite or comfortable places at times. But interaction with readers is essential if you want to learn anything as a writer. Unlike the way it was 20 years ago, readers – even the dickheads – have access to a lot of information. En masse, they have more than you do. It helps to listen to them, even if they’re rude about telling you when you’re wrong. It helps to be challenged from time to time rather than assume that, because you got the job, you are an unquestioned authority.
Get your hands dirty. Argue what you believe. But don’t be afraid to defend your positions or to change your mind if you can’t. And don’t expect that the strongest challenges you’ll get are from your fan club or from polite people.
In other words, suck it up, read your comments, interact with people on Twitter and quit being so damned sensitive.