Steve Dahl Thinks You Aren’t Qualified to Comment on the News (and That He’s a Cockroach)

Steve Dahl, Chicago area radio personality and special contributor to the Chicago Tribune online, took to the Web to comment on all the useless commentary on the Web.

When did public opinion merit the same amount of airtime as the actual story? Back in the day, it used to be a big deal that Walter Jacobson gave his “Perspective” at the end of newscasts on WBBM-Ch. 2. Now we seem to be following the Jerry Springer model, in which essentially anybody can stand up and say anything, and we are supposed to be enlightened or at least reasonably entertained by it. That is bad news for the next generation of broadcasters and journalists: Everybody is now an expert on everything.

Dahl blames the Internet for this degradation of the news media. He contends that the average reader opinion adds no value and that the ease of commenting online (via comments, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) actually dilutes the value of the opinions written by professionals.

I had to work six-hour shifts in Bakersfield, Calif., to earn my stripes as a communicator. Nowadays, having a Twitter page qualifies a person to give commentary on CNN … With the advent of Twitter, Facebook, instant messaging and texting, now almost any fool can set up his or her broadcast hub.

Dahl issued a call for action:

I beseech the online editors at this paper to turn off the “comments” after each article. If people have opinions about something that they’ve just read, let them write a letter to the editor.

Of course, the first comment on his column illustrated his point almost too perfectly:

Get over it FAT MAN! Quite frankly, the comments are the best part of your BORING weekly articles

But there is also an interesting comment reflecting the frustration of serious commentors with the lack of editorial control:

Steve, you are so right on. I spend hours writing great comments to every column I read and then they get lost amongst the myriad musings of morons.

So, there is a real issue here, but Dahl’s credibility as its champion is a bit strained. Not only is his radio show fueled by the absurdity of caller comments, but Dahl also reads the comments submitted by his Internet readers on the air.

Consider also his highly professional blog post for today, featured on his radio show’s Web page - just above his article from the Tribune (on which he also comments in the post):

November 12, 2009 The Puck Stops Here

I just made myself a bowl of instant oatmeal before sitting down to type this blog at 9:15 CST. I still marvel at the fact that it only takes a minute to make a delicious bowl of oatmeal now that we live in the space age. I like oatmeal (steel cut) best when I get it from hotel room service, but this will have to do for today. I never did look at any of the comments under my article in yesterday’s online edition of the Tribune. But. I was told that there were some real doozies. I was also told that there were a lot of nice ones too, so thank you for that. There are a couple of people who just cant stand the fact that I continue to survive and move ahead, no mater what is thrown in my path. They might want to get out there and try and make something of themselves and stop worrying so much about me. I am like a cockroach, or Gloria Gaynor: I will survive.

This post really speaks for itself, so I am going to try to take the high road and look at the bigger picture. Putting his hypocrisy and gross insect similes aside, Dahl’s column does raise some interesting issues.

What do you think? What is the value of online comments? What, if anything, makes some opinions more valuable than others? Do the absurd comments devalue the otherwise valuable opinions? Should comments on articles be moderated and/or edited?

(Just for the record, we here at CJR love when readers comment on our articles, so fire away!)

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Diana Dellamere is a former CJR staff writer.