In her new column, “The Firestorm Over My Column,” the Washington Post’s Ombudsman, Deborah Howell says, “So is it the relative anonymity of the Internet that emboldens e-mailers to conduct a public stoning? Is this the increasing political polarization of our country? I don’t know.”
Both are true, but the problem with the Post’s comment section, as far as I can tell, wasn’t the fact that idiots were posting. It’s that the Post seems not to have set up the comment system with sufficient due diligence.
The newspaper didn’t respond to my e-mailed query, but I did hear from someone who read my previous posting on this bizarre controversy and has a reason to know what’s going on there. This person wrote:
I do not believe post.com has any kind of registration system in place for comments. It’s basically a simple “enter name, enter comment, submit” system. There’s no e-mail check of any kind. And it’s definitely not linked to their site registration system.
In other words, they failed Blog Comments 101 (which so many media companies seem to do) by allowing freeform comments without forcing the commenter over any sort of hurdle that would provide accountability.
That’s putting it mildly.
To repeat what I said before, comments are worth the trouble, if done right. Why?
Because listening and responding are as important in tomorrow’s journalism as speaking. If we forget that, even bigger trouble lies ahead.
UPDATE: The New York Times’ media columnist, David Carr, also trashes the commenters. He ends his piece — with what he probably meant as an ironic touch, but comes off as merely arrogant — with an invitation to send comments via the U.S. Postal Service. “And don’t forget that the price of stamps just went up,” he taunts. Wow…