Steve Kelley

Many believe that allowing online reader comments are beneficial for a news organization. Steve Kelley certainly does not think so.

Kelley, the longtime Seattle Times sports columnist, will be writing his final column this Sunday. He went on the Luke Burbank Show on KIRO Radio this morning and had some interesting things to say about reader comments. You can listen here at about the 30-minute mark.

He recalled his favorite column, one he penned about his wife’s courageous battle with a brain tumor in 1991. Luke Burbank then asked him about the feedback he received.

“I got negative feedback, absolutely,” Kelley said. “People writing that ‘We don’t want to know about your boring personal life.'”

Then the conversation quickly turned to comments online at the bottom of stories.

“It’s a problem we’re running into in the business now,” Kelley said. “For the life of me, I don’t know why we run comments at bottoms of people’s stories.”

Burbank added that some of the comments are the “darkest part of the human soul.” Kelley then recalled how his son and former Seattle Times sportswriter Mason Kelley once wrote about a high school baseball player’s battle with cancer. That player was reluctant to talk because he was afraid of what kinds of comments the story would receive.

“I don’t know why it’s in our newspaper,” Kelley said of nasty comments. “We can’t write that — why do we allow it in our entity?”

Burbank then asked if sports fans have always been this bad.

“They just never had a chance,” Kelley continued. “Now they have a voice. Let’s be honest: Everybody thinks they can do my job. Everybody. I thought I could do my job before I could do my job. Everybody thinks that, and this proves it because they’re getting published. [The commenters] are getting their crackpot ideas and vitriol published in a legitimate news source. And anonymously, too. I don’t get that.”

Kelley brings up a great point. On almost every story, there’s bound to be some hurtful and over-the-top comments, many directed at the writer. But it does spark conversation and can act as a melting pot for people to exchange ideas, which can be productive.

What do you think? Should media organizations disable comments?

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  • sportspressnw

    I can appreciate Steve’s thoughts, but there is just the basic fact that times are changing. Art and Steve get called horrible things and have horrible things said to them about their personal lives, but that’s just part of the gig now, unfortunately.

    On the other hand, I believe a lot of news websites just put up with it because even trolls generate page views and ad-revenue, possibly the most if they are really active. We put up with it because it’s necessary in staying relevant, especially when fan-blogs are more than ready to come and take our readers by cheerleading and saying what readers want to hear.

  • Guest

    GeekWire should think about eliminating the comment section altogether, which merely serves as a battle ground for astroturfing Microsoft shills, Apple fanbois, Linux fanatics, and deranged trolls. People can read your stories and simply choose to agree or disagree. Ironically Fox News was the first to eliminate the comment section, as it seemed to attract very radical and reactionary elements only to share the “darkest part of the human soul”. On GeekWire, eventually it all ends in calling each other names, questioning others’ technical competency, or insulting the writer and insinuating financial incentives for pushing an “agenda”. Civility would be great, but it simply ain’t gonna happen. So please disable the comments. And to follow my own recommendation, this will be my last comment here on GeekWire. Love reading your stories though, even the ones I don’t agree with. Comments on the other hand … not so much.

  • B.E. Ward

    There’s nothing wrong with comments, but they need to be moderated, or at least patrolled. The ST website specifically forbids “personal attacks or insults” and “hate speech”, but everyone knows the comment sections are loaded with both.

  • Mike Lindblom

    Anonymous reader comments are ridiculous. Anonymity should be granted only to tipsters whose information might get them killed or wounded, or destroy their ability to make a living.

    Mike Lindblom, a veteran Seattle-area reporter

  • Guest

    Frankly, I’ve found that comment sections add little to no value to an article. They serve as handy ways to collect more page views, but I would still read GeekWire even if it were devoid of such anonymous blipinions.

    Comment sections also encourage “engaging the audience,” that thing lazy editors do when there is no news. “Windows 8 is out! What’s your take?” and “I text while driving! Are you as crazy and selfish as I am?” are examples of GeekWire articles that impart no information and represent a desperate plea to have a “conversation” with men who wouldn’t even get served a meal at Jack in the Box.

  • dentalgirl57

    I kind of agree with Steve. Some of the comments made are beyond pale and they are comments that most people would never say in a face to face situation. They feel safe because they remain anonymous. Perhaps you should be required to give your real name, etc in order to comment. But then how do you verify that? It is so easy to hide on the net.

    • Brad Hefta-Gaub

      Glad you chose to include your real name in this discussion. So, is “Dental” your first name and “Girl57″ your last name? Or are you like Madona? Only one name?

      • Guest

        Brad, do you treat your customers at Konamoxt with this contempt? Please read “dentalgirl57″‘s comment again.

        • Brad Hefta-Gaub

          I have no contempt for DentalGirl57 or “Guest”. But I think it’s pretty clearly hypocritical to make a comment about how people should be forced to use their real names without using one’s real name.

          Certainly I used “satire” to make my point. But satire is not “contempt” nor is my comment “beyond pale” or something I wouldn’t say face to face. I think it’s perfectly reasonable critique.

          I happen to agree with the notion that people should generally speaking use their real identity, which is why I use my real identity.

          I also happen to agree with the some of the comments above, including those from journalists, that there is an appropriate place for “the anonymous” source. Sometimes speaking truth is risky, and anonymity gives some safety to the truth-teller. But “DentalGirl57″‘s comment, and your comment, don’t strike me as feedback that warrants the “protection of anonymity”. What’s so controversial about what you’re saying?

          If you genuinely feel that my comment showed “contempt” and offended you, then I do apologize. My intent was not to offend. And I know in my heart, I don’t have contempt for either of you. But I think you undermine your own position by making it anonymously.

          • Guest

            I see. Does the real Brad Hefta-Gaub know that you’re dragging his name and the name of his company through the mud with these poorly-thought-out “satire” posts? I know I’d think twice about enlisting the help of a company whose CEO spends his workday trolling strangers on GeekWire.

  • Been There

    One way to upgrade the level of commenting is to disallow anonymous posting. That way, if you want to be an idiot, let others know who the idiot is.

    • Brad Hefta-Gaub

      Nice of you to include your name in this debate.

  • Tom

    If you just want ratings, sure – keep the comments going. But if you want to stay on topic or have any control over your content – i.e., pride in your work as a writer – then moderate.

    Yes times are changing. But the more they change, the more they stay the same. If it’s your place, you can kick anyone out you think is an asshole. Same goes online with your content – including anyone’s comments.

  • Bill Lawrence

    I agree. Make all commenters identify themselves by name and town, and the cowards and hate mongers will disappear like a fart in the wind. Bill Lawrence Sequim

  • art thiel

    As someone who has made his living putting my name on just about everything I write, I have a strong reaction against anonymity. I much prefer engaging with people who have the courage of their convictions.

    Having said that, my experience has been that the majority of commenters have something worthwhile to say. Steve and others are focusing on a minority of respondents who are out not to advance the discussion, but to damage it and its participants. Guess what? That’s exactly how it is in the rest of life. But in the rest of life, we tend to gather around us the like-minded, and don’t often seek those who disagree, who instead provide invective. Publishing on the web, there is no hiding from the storm.

    I have three suggestions: 1) Ignore the knuckleheads; 2) embrace the rational; 3) Let No. 2 help police the thread by shouting down No. 1.

    Many news consumers who value quality content and a dialogue with the news providers find the comment sections worthwhile. There is a decent chance that everyone will learn something from the exchange. Instead of taking the easy way out and simply banning comments, consumers can create a neighborhood watch by doing their part to respond with wit, intelligence and engagement to marginalize the trolls.

    The First Amendment helps protect everyone’s right to say stupid stuff without government interference. But the Constitution leaves it to us, thankfully, to decide how deal with stupid stuff among private citizens. I bet we can.

    • Guest

      I agree with you generally. But sometimes people need the protection of anonymity to tell the truth too.

      We STILL don’t know for sure who Deep Throat was for instance.

      • Dave

        Um. Yes we do.

  • guest

    The thing is, anonymous comments are often a lot better than ones that have a name attached. If someone has something interesting to say that people in a position of power above them don’t want to hear (oh, like investors and startups, for example), those comments won’t get published with names.

    It’s also great when folks that have real expertise post, and depending on who their employer is, they might never post with a real name. I’m thinking of Boeing or Microsoft poeple that post on stories – at its best, it can be really interesting to read. If the companies or groups are really political (and I don’t know if those companies are, but many big ones have patches of that, at least), or even if the employee is just insecure, they’ll never post without being anonymous.

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