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Newquist: Comment Sections Degrade Journalism

My neighbor, former professional journalist, and continuing blogger David Newquist joins the discussion of what distinguishes journalism from mere online shouting. After discussing the central importance of facts and literary quality to journalism, Newquist says online comment sections are like graffiti on good reporting:

When a news story presentation allows for comments, the chain of responses produces a verbal smoke screen in which the facts are obscured, sometimes totally lost.  Most of the comments do not refer to the facts.  As linguistic scholars explain it, the language of comments gives us  maps of the minds of the commenters.  It deals with the prejudices, obsessions, and deviations of the commenters, seldom with the facts at issue.  For many, those products of cognitive failure are the impression that is retained in their minds.  More often than not, comment threads produce expressions of malice, which reduce the exchange into a malicious exercise.  Students of how mass communication works explain that these exchanges are in large part a cause of the hateful political divide in our nation.

Savvy editors recognize that the good work of industrious, competent reporters is defaced by horribly written and specious commentary… [David Newquist, “What Is a Real Journalist?Northern Valley Beacon, 2019.05.06].

I love interacting with my commenters and respect the opinions of enough of them to pull stats and rate blog posts based on how many comments they provoke. I learn a lot from my commenters, and I maintain that my commenters provide far more value than the mudslinging anonymi who bother to duckspeak to my conservative competition’s crony propaganda.

But I also recognize that some of the Dakota Free Press posts that draw the most comments do so because a few commenters are chasing red herrings down rabbit holes that lead to no additional understanding of the original story. I acknowledge that some commenters post messages not to inform the public further on the story at hand but to obscure the facts or denigrate, harass, and demoralize the author or other speakers, ill intent opposite the purpose of journalism.

I have blocked a handful of commenters for taking that ill intent too far. I occasionally delete comments that stray from the main purpose of discussion. Even commenters with whom I agree completely sometimes fall into this fault, going off on tangents about the latest Trump/Mueller/Pelosi news that may start with some abstract connection to the local topic at hand but which lead readers to forget South Dakota and reheat national media leftovers that don’t tell us much about the need for trees in Aberdeen parking lotsa hot mic at the next Rapid City Wingnuts meeting, or a Secretary of Education who isn’t a feckless political crony.

I will continue taking comments, I will continue taking measures to encourage better comments. Use your real names, speak as neighbors would face to face, stay on topic, and take Newquist’s admonition as a reminder that everyone who speaks publicly, from elected officials and professional journalists to bloggers and their commenters, has an obligation to lift up the community with honest, respectful, and enlightening discourse.


  1. mike from iowa 2019-05-09 08:46

    I plead guilty and await sentencing. I am not the victim here. I did not kill my parents to gain mercy as an orphan (which I am). I must confess pursuing trolls down sewers is great sport, what?

  2. Evelyn Red Lodge 2019-05-09 10:27

    I so agree. Your so-called competition was quoted after I commented to Jackley about the Mette case. He provided a link to a story by the scummy blog. My investigation of the scum master turned up no training whatsoever in journalism, yet he went to court and construed that the court deemed him a Journalist. The court ruled, and I paraphrase, that he enjoys the protections of a journalist.

  3. Porter Lansing 2019-05-09 11:00

    Agreed, MFI. Rabbit holes are often enticing … especially during a cold, dreary winter when President Bozo is spending our tax money in Florida. I’ll try harder to respect Cory’s attempts to keep the train headed forward. On that note ~
    From Dakota Duck College
    ~ How did the duck die?
    ~ He overdosed on quack …

  4. T. Camp 2019-05-09 15:35

    As a person who studied journalism, I am struck that most news reporting is mostly opinion.
    We were taught to report, ‘just the facts,’ and leave commentary to the Editorial Page. We were taught to understand and have knowledge of the subject matter before we went out to cover the story.
    Today, we read and hear so much false reporting, it is no wonder the print and broadcast media is falling on hard times.

  5. SDBlue 2019-05-09 15:49

    I have a very difficult time being civil to our worthless governor and MOC’s on Twitter and Facebook. I just can’t bring myself to be “nice” to theocrats and fascists when they are gleefully destroying everything I hold dear all in the name of power and profit. Their undying devotion to Don the Con makes my blood boil. I think they should all be tried for treason.

  6. mike from iowa 2019-05-09 17:10

    Well said, SDBlue. Porter, too. Chip away at constitutional rights for the little people and trust in korporate Amerika to do right by us. HAH!!!~

  7. happy camper 2019-05-09 18:52

    Newquist is right, although his own comments on this blog have been highly polarizing. Many times on Yahoo I’ve read in the comment section “Straight to the comments” and then gone on to read statements that showed they were totally unaware of facts presented in column. They simply wanted to find reinforcement for their biases which has been discussed previously but still represents laziness and self-absorption. While I enjoy snark I prefer looking each other right in the eye so the true meaning is better understood. Otherwise as Newquist says, playing with the words and shaping the news to fit our opinions has degraded jouralism to the point I’ve called this blog (and many other information sources) propoganda. What’s that line of Jack Nicholson’s from As Good As It Gets? “You can’t deal with the truth.” No, it was A Few Good Men.

  8. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-05-09 19:03

    Actually Terry, I don’t think we hear that much false reporting, not from the mainstream media, not from the honest media. That’s propaganda Trump spreads to sow relativism and nihilism and make it easier for people to fall for his baloney when he wants them to.

  9. Tammy DeCoteau 2019-10-01 12:58

    As a native person in South Dakota, I can tell you the comments on many articles from different media on stories involving native people are abhorrent. I cannot believe that they are allowed to be seen.

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