"Lately, there’s been a new focus on commenting culture, with significant players in the industry starting to think and talk about the monster we’ve created and how we might course-correct after all this time."For many years I had a regular column published on the second page of our regional newspaper. It was a thrill to see it on the newsstand and peel back to A2 and see my little photo and my clever headline. But the essay had to be accepted, I sometimes had to do a re-write, and it was seen by one editor and one copyeditor at a minimum before it was printed. Every once in a while, someone would recognize me in town and mention something I wrote. Once in a great while there'd be a letter, sent by US Mail, pointing out an error or with a compliment. My editor might or might not pass it on.
Now, as an author and blogger, and someone who comments on other blogs and articles, the responses are fast and often furious. I don't think savage is too strong a word. The world of online commenting allows all the naked, undigested, indigestible thought flotsam to surface - in real time.
I don't want to go back to the sterility of one-way publishing. Not only was less satisfying it was a dead end. An idea was sent out, maybe echoed a bit, and generally died. Even if it got scrapbooked or put on a fridge the writer rarely knew how it landed except by having the editor willing to publish you again. Now writers, and everyone with a screen, gets to hear the response: there's no distance. This feedback makes its way into what we write, and what we do.
I don't like reading the horrid and ignorant thoughts in the comments of many newspapers and blogs - especially on topics that matter to me. But they are real, and they do reflect reality. It isn't about civility as much as it is truth. There's a lot of ignorance and thoughtless cruelty in the hearts of man. There is also wisdom and beauty that may not come out without the safety of a bland username and anonymous email. There are bullies, but there are also allies.
Writers have to develop thicker skins, and perspective. Readers have to stop believing that comments have to be right or kind. Get your word in, show who YOU are, and let people live with their own conscience at night. These days, we all get the last word.