For, Friday, March 31, 2017

EDITOR’S NOTE: Some nine years ago, I wrote a column about nasty entries in the “comments” section, and since things online seem to have gotten nastier since then, it’s worth another look. This one ran in the Deseret News on Jan. 11, 2008, under the headline: ‘Some nasty criticism may benefit paper.’ (Note that the name of the paper here is ‘Deseret Morning News,’ a title taken on when the switch was made from afternoon to morning, but which was later returned to simply ‘Deseret News.’ Also, I make reference to the late Jeff Vice, the Deseret News movie critic who succeeded me in the job.)

My daughter, Angela, recently told me she's stopped reading the Deseret Morning News online because she can't resist looking at the comments linked to my stories, but she hates how people say mean things about me.

So she has reinstated her subscription to the newspaper.

I was touched by her gesture. Isn't family loyalty a wonderful thing?

But after 30 years of readers telling me what an idiot I am, I've become complacent about it. Or, maybe I'm just in denial.

Although, to be honest, I'm not a fan of online anonymous comments posted by readers and tagged to stories, either. Albeit for different reasons.

Too often the comments are merely knee-jerk reactions, sometimes quite rude and/or crude, and they almost always become arguments between some of the commenters. (Commentees?)                  

Ultimately, the comments devolve into a sort of argumentative newspaper-sponsored chat room. (And that's just the comments we let you see; you wouldn't believe some of the comments that aren't posted.)   

But I'm even more troubled by reader comments that are just wrong. As in incorrect. Perpetuating falsehoods or wrong-headed ideas.

Take my column last week about the "Goofy" cartoon. Toward the end I wrote this: "When it was over, I found myself saying aloud: 'Holy cow! They nailed it."' A couple of commenters railed against me for "yelling" in the theater.

Say what? Even I'm not that big a geek. "Muttered" might be closer to the mark.   

But that's just a minor, silly thing.


What started this bubbling in my brain was movie critic Jeff Vice's year-end best-movies-of-'07 story a couple of weeks ago — which generated a bevy of comments.

Scanning them, it quickly became obvious that a lot of people don't know the difference between news stories and the opinions expressed in a column or review. (We do try to keep them separate.) And several readers' postings invoked my name, as if I'm the omnipresent Ghost of Movie Reviews Past, hovering over Jeff like a cranky specter.

While I'm flattered that some readers apparently have fond memories of my past work, the truth is, the complaints leveled against Jeff aren't any different than those that were aimed at me during the 20 years I had the job.

The only difference is that they came via snail-mail — not with the click of a button and thousands of online witnesses.

And sometimes they came to me verbally.

Because I also did television and radio back in those days, people often recognized me when I was out and about — and many of them had no compunction about giving me a public dressing-down when they disagreed with me.

On the other hand, sometimes comments will correct a mistake we've made, which is appreciated. As when, two weeks ago in my year-end column, I referred — twice! — to "The Bourne Supremacy" but called it "The Bourne Ultimatum." (Which has now been fixed in the online story, by the way.)

On the other hand, if those nasty comments will drive people — even if it's just in my own family — to renew their subscriptions to the newspaper, maybe you should keep 'em coming.