In a long and interesting if not especially groundbreaking piece on the future of the daily newspaper, Eric Alterman writes:
Yet traditional journalists are blinkered by their emotional investment in their Lippmann-like status as insiders. They tend to dismiss not only most blogosphere-based criticisms but also the messy democratic ferment from which these criticisms emanate. The Chicago Tribune recently felt compelled to shut down comment boards on its Web site for all political news stories. Its public editor, Timothy J. McNulty, complained, not without reason, that “the boards were beginning to read like a community of foul-mouthed bigots.”
I’m not sure “blinkered” is exactly the right word here. McNulty and his colleagues don’t want their Web site to serve as an antfarm of misanthropy; it’s their space, and their right. “Messy democratic ferment” is actually a kind way of putting it; “profoundly terrifying babble” would be another. Daily newspapers, which are theoretically and ideally meant to serve as broad an audience as any medium can, don’t have the luck of an conceptual organizing principle, like DailyKos or Slashdot or what have you, which at least keeps the crazy down.
On one hand, I’m in favor of McNulty’s approach, which is not so much anti-democratic as anti-anarchic (a democratic approach, alternately, would be closer to rated comments). There’s not a lot the critical reader can get from most open newspaper comment sections.
On the other hand, there’s something moving about dry, balanced, reasoned commentary standing athwart a hothouse of insanity in the comments. It reminds me of civilization and reality.