Calvin Stovall is a former colleague of mine, now editor-in-chief of the Binghamton Press in New York. He recently lowered the Sword of Justice upon his newspaper’s comment sections. You think your life is sad and pathetic? Getta loada this:
We had to remove racist and insensitive comments on a story about the birth of the first baby of 2010 in Broome County, born to a black woman. Just Monday, I had staffers take down comments on a story about a motorcyclist killed in an accident involving a school bus and a minivan in Kirkwood.
During the past three weeks, I banned three people for life from our site because of abuses, including attacks on one another and racist comments. They returned to the site under different usernames. We confirmed who they were and blocked them again, and we will continue to do so until they get the message that they’re not welcome on our site.
First, imagine being the sort of person who feels the need to comment on a first-baby-of-the-year story. I’d imagine being banned for those shenanigans would be the Scorsesean camera-pulls-back moment that momentarily puts you outside your life and allows you to briefly observe it from, say, a high corner in your room: Yep, that’s me all right, rockin’ the Dell laptop. Boy, the way I type really rattles the card table, doesn’t it? And that bare lightbulb — none of those socialist twisty things for me! Kiss my ass, Mr. born-in-Kenya Obama!
(On second thought, you always run the risk that, once outside himself, your readers will like what they see.)
Internet eggheads are always telling lamestream journalists that they have to jump into their comment sections. Many of them run sites where the comment sections are kind of like our own here at NN.C, rich and smart and, to continue my oft-used Cheers metaphor, a place where everybody knows your name, there’s a fire in the hearth and the bowls of peanuts are always full and warm.
There’s another kind of bar out there. It’s where alcoholics line up to get a drink at the earliest possible opening hour. It smells bad, no one talks and the toilets frequently overflow. This is what newspaper comment sections are. I really can’t blame someone like Calvin, who has enough to do just getting the paper out, from wanting to engage with the sorts of pinheads who would, once banned from the worst bar in the world, try to sneak a way back in, re-registering under new user names, so that people can hear their thoughts on the skin color of the first baby of the new year.
Partly it’s a function of size — the more people you let in, the worse it gets. Our own community got some new members after the Goeglein affair, but I think the quality stayed high, even as some of our best people left (farewell and adieu, Danny, Marcia, Gasman, many others) and were replaced by newcomers. I sometimes find myself at a loss for words when people ask what this blog is about. Is it political? Sometimes, but that’s not its purpose. Pop culture? Same answer. Personal, a diary? Kinda, but not really, no. So what is it? It’s just a place where I drink my morning coffee and work the kinks out of my fingers, but even on days when I’m not particularly present, the best reading is in the comments.
Once again, thanks to all you readers, silent and otherwise. I lift a glass to you, and the next round is on the house.
So, election day. I haven’t voted yet, but I will. There aren’t a ton of seats at play locally, but there are some — governor, state house and senate seats, and my local school board. The latter races have kept me hopping over at my other site, and just because there’s never enough to do that you can’t do a little bit more, yesterday’s police rounds were ridonkulous, a side effect of Halloween, I guess. Reading over my report, I’m kicking myself for not connecting the “29 minors” rousted from an underage drinking party to the Chilean miners, somehow — that could have generated some yuks. But in a week when the file offers you an actual scene from a Cheech & Chong movie, you take the low-hanging fruit.
So, off to the gym and the polls. No real bloggage today, but there’s this — the awful, no-good health care law that’s actually bringing health insurance to small-business employees.
Civic duty! Onward!