On Saturday we published a story on Dean Smith that I'd been working on for a while with Robbi Pickeral, the great UNC basketball beat writer for the Raleigh News & Observer. Now that the story has been out in the world for a couple of days, the most gratifying thing about it is something I had nothing to do with: the quality of the online comments.
As I write this, there are 66 comments about the story on the Observer's page, and all but a couple are respectful, thoughtful and touching. Several Duke fans have written in to say that, even though UNC is their biggest rival, they still admired the way Smith coached and leads his life.
Comments often add a lot to the understanding of a story -- they can flesh out details in stories, pick out flaws, start debates, and even break news. Sometimes the comments are better than the story (and that includes a good number of my stories). I don't mind that it sometimes feels more like a saloon than a salon. The best answer to free speech is more free speech.
Having said all that, sometimes it's depressing to see how the comments turn out. Complicated thoughts can get reduced to political talking points. Vulnerable people can get pounded by personal attacks. A small group of posters can dominate the discussion, and drive out people who want to have a conversation instead of a shouting match.
The comments on the N&O's site about the Dean Smith story have more of an edge to them, although they're still mild compared to a lot of other stories we publish.
I'd love to hear any thoughts you have on how to make our comments better -- or your thoughts on why you like them the way they are.
And we really appreciate all of you who wrote in about this story. The comments really added to the discussion, and that's always our goal.