Monday, July 19, 2010

Dean Smith, comments, and you


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.

36 comments:

Ed said...

The solution is simple. You charge commenters $1 on their credit card and require them to use their real names. Once you lose the anonymity then you lose a lot of trollers and trouble makers.

Anonymous said...

My son was at Carolina in the '80s and had always admired Dean Smith as a phenomenal innovative coach who ran a clean program. I was so glad that my son had him to look up to rather than others he could have chosen. Because Smith is a man of excellent character, he has shown his players and the fans how to be competitive and still be a gentleman. Long live Dean Smith!

Timothy Whitson said...

I'm all for transparency. If something's worth saying, it's worth signing your name to it. If it's something you wouldn't want your mama to know you said, you probably shouldn't say it in a public forum. That's how most bar fights get started.

Anonymous said...

Like I said in the annon comments, Dean Smith is a bleading heat liberal, just like most on The Observer staff. He could best be described as a Socialist. If it makes you feel better Tommie...he was a very good basketball coach..

Michael K. Samuels
Lenoir, NC

Anonymous said...

i am a duke fan and i am one of the ones that greatly admires coach smith. but Ed...a dollar for every comment? ive never been one to call names or be immature with my comments, but i do like to debate certain issues, in a positive way though. but i believe charging a dollar for a comment will alienate a good bit of the resoectful commenters as well.

Bobby Padgett said...

$1 per comment is way too much. Too much free speech is this country is stifled because of the cost of airing ones opinion.

I'd suggest $0.01 per comment.

The big thing is do away with folks posting under anonymous or a fake handle. Rule one should be everyone posts under there real name that has been verified by the CO staff. Rule two is a current pic adorns your profile.

At least the CO isn't as bad as the Gaston Gazette which actually prints the choice nuggets left by anonymous posters on the op-ed page, yet would never do the same for a letter to the editor.

Anonymous said...

Learn how to spell You Moron!!!
Life is bad enough with you already.


Mrs. Michael K. Samuels
Lenoir, NC

Anonymous said...

A dollar a comment, or any other amount, is an outrage. Certain comments, and bloggers alike, much like the pus in a pimple, are there for a reason.

kyle said...

Hey Micheal, you need to hurry up and get home so you can wash the car, mow the yard and prepare for the second coming of Jesse Helms. LOL!

Anonymous said...

Not a dollar per comment, just a dollar charged to the credit card to verify that the person is using their real name. Makes perfect sense.

Ed is right.

tommy tomlinson said...

Dear Michael K. Samuels,

Thanks for providing a perfect example of why I sometimes hate to look at the comments.

Everybody else: Anonymity is a tough call. We've sometimes gotten good tips from anonymous readers in the comments. But the biggest problem is simpler: Most people browse the Web at work. And it'd be hard for some folks to explain to the boss why they were posting online instead of wrapping up that spreadsheet.

Tommy

Linnea said...

I deleted my account (in which I used my first two initials and last name) after I was excoriated over expressing my dismay over the tone of many of the comments regarding the Ballantyne affordable housing issue (including one where the commenter listed an advocate's tax information). I won't come back, and I hide reader comments, feeling they too often add nothing to a story. I'm all for free speech, but the other side of free speech is I don't have to subject myself to random hatred.

I'm pleased people were civil over the Dean Smith article. I'm an App State grad and don't have a dog in the ACC fight, but Smith is a class act, no matter who you cheer for.

Anonymous said...

An Michael K. Samuels plays right into the article about how comments can be annoying. Thanks again for showing me the stupidity of people.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy reading comments -- though I rarely post one myself. It is unfortunate when they devolve into personal attacks. And, I do think a small group of regular posters are to blame when the comments get ugly.

YOUR_UNC_DADDY said...

Michael K. Samuels, does your mom know you are on the computer again? You are gonna be sent to bed without dinner again!

Peter Weinberger said...

As usual Tommy is right on with his comments. Now where can I meet you for the first round?

Ed said...

Uh...it wouldn't be one dollar a comment. It would be a one time charge to verify your name. From then on it would be free like it is now.

Anonymous said...

Tommy: First of all, let me say that I went over and read the N&O comments, and they are not nearly as thoughtful or intelligent as the ones submitted here. But they are just as anonymous.

As for suggestions on how to handle comments, I think many would agree that anonymous comments are worthless. Otherwise, the CO would accept anonymous letters to the editor.

For anonymous tips (which can be quite valuable) you could set up a link for tips to be checked out by reporters.

Anonymous said...

Comments are the fodder.

Recommends are the barometer.

southcarolinaregulators said...

You can't stop the negative comments Tommy, it's up to us to do that. Freedom of speech is sacred, and must remain so, no matter how vile and hurtful. We commentators who get to voice our opinions in anonymity (if desired), don't have to face the pain of personal attacks from abusive people. Well, some, but not enough to have our egos crushed. Still it is up to us to monitor comments and retort when appropriate. We have a responsibility to answer attacks for those in the public spotlight. For they cannot defend themselves without an appearance of impropriety. Cassius said it best - "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings" Go forward dear Tommy, and speaketh thine truth. Fear not dear friend, we've got your back.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if all the people who are against anonymity know that the Federalist Papers and the Anti-Federalist Papers were published anonymously.

My guess is that they don't even know what the Federalist Papers and Anti-Federalist Papers are.

Anonymous said...

Requiring commenters to use their names, even if no money changes hands, isn't the solution. As many have noted there are usually a few buffoons who browbeat and 'scream' at others. Why not have a moderator staff who have the power to permanently silence the loudmouths? Sure if you delete their account they'll just make a new one, but if there were several people on the mod staff then keeping up with pretty much all the comments wouldn't be a monumental task and you could just catch them when they come back as someone else.

Anonymous said...

Michael S, is a good guy. Leave his spelling alone!

John D., Michael S.'s paramour
Lenoir, NC

Anonymous said...

This posting has been different, as, usually, the N&O comments for the same articles are limited in number and content.

Steve Solbakken said...

Class begets class. Dean Smith was and is a class act, and is recognized for being so. It's quite a testament to his character that he still brings out the best in people - including anonymous commenters in a newspaper 100 miles from Chapel Hill.

J. Inman said...

As a child I grew up watching UNC basketball but as a grown man I watched Coach Smith and how he lives his life, honor, dignity, and Christian Grace. It is my hope that someday I will be the typer of man he is.

Ed said...

Comments on the Observer have nothing to do with anonymous publications that were produced during our country's history. You can anonymously publish anything you want whether it be a photocopied pamphlet or a blog. This is about the Observer and the only way the Observer can stop the trolls is by getting rid of anonymous commenting and screen names. That is all.

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Anonymous said...

Well I wish Dean Smith only the best with his health issues. Lots of things happened over the years that Dean Smith and Gene Hooks did that were not very good. I will leave it at that. Those issues he will have to take up with his maker.

Mike said...

Things that Dean Smith did that were not very good?? Yea, right. You mean like paying bills for office and maintenance workers when times were tough. Like being in the forefront of integration. For refusing to accept accolades and instead directing those to his players. Yea, really bad stuff there.

Cedar Posts said...

Step into a large room crowded with strangers from all walks of life and ask what they think about global warming, and you'll get a wide range of answers, hand gestures and explanations.

Sit down to lunch with a dozen college PhD's who teach climate change and you'll have an entirely different discussion.

You can change the decorum by being selective of who you admit. Lunch at the "club" or the "food court" what does the Observer represent? I'd suggest something along the lines of Junior High School lunchroom.

Would requiring a paid delivery subscription to post comments improve the discussion? Doubtful.

tommy tomlinson said...

Irony alert: I've had to delete a couple of comments on this post about high-quality comments. For future reference: If you throw Hitler into the discussion, that's pretty much an automatic DQ.

Anonymous said...

Whatever fat boy.
You pretty much suck.

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