Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The messy public

I'm a fan of comments at the end of stories, anonymous, not even registered on the newspaper site. I'm a fan of engagement.

So it's disappointing to find out that the half dozen folks commenting at the end of a story are sniping at each other like unhappy siblings, or speculating about the sex lives of the subjects in the story. Tiresome hardly begins to capture the disappointment.

Where is the civic discourse? And how long will it be before my newspaper will adopt slashdot community self-policing of comments? I don't think newspaper editors are meant to be the only adult in the playroom, clicking off comments, cluck-clucking their distaste for the rabble.

So, tonight I watched the Jim Lehrer News Hour, and paid close attention to the interview with Andrew Keen, author of "The cult of the amateur." You can read the full interview here.

One taste:
ANDREW KEEN: The key argument is that the so-called "democratization" of the Internet is actually undermining reliable information and high-quality entertainment. By replacing mainstream media content, high-quality radio, television, newspapers, publishing, music, with user-generated content, we're actually doing away with information, high-quality information, high-quality entertainment, and replacing it with user-generated content, which is unreliable, inane, and often rather corrupt.

Well, Andrew Keen would be describing the forums on my newspaper. One of the main worries is that thoughtful people will be so turned off by the lowbrow nature of existing commentary that they'll bypass this opportunity to engage. I'm still thinking about all this. I have a great faith in the group to throw up a glint of genius, a profoundness that speaks to us all. Yet, I have seen plenty of evidence that the group fails to produce.

Still, I have faith. All true things are complicated, and the good mingles close by the bad. We need to talk about it and think about it and write about it before we understand.

So, even though I've been disappointed, I don't want to turn off public comments. I put my two bits on the cyber community to say out loud so as to be heard by all: We're talking seriously here. If you aren't, find someplace else to talk.

Here's Andrew Keen on a panel discussing the democratization of media. Think about it.