Do Reader Comments on Web Articles “Devalue” Journalism?

Douglas Bailey, president and founder of DBMediaStrategies Inc., thinks so. (What is DBMedia Strategies? The company’s web site says that it ” helps businesses, individuals and institutions navigate through the media thicket and devises strategies for their messages to be received, understood and properly disseminated.” Online comments, I guess, represent more “thicket” to ensnare proper message dissemination.)

From Bailey’s Boston Globe column yesterday:

[A]s satiated as I am with the enormous and varied flow of available information, I’ve concluded there’s one outlet that should be abandoned: those comment forums at the end of articles on newspaper websites.

…these forums are insidiously contributing to the devaluation of journalism, blurring the truth, confusing the issues, and diminishing serious discourse beyond even talk radio’s worst examples.

…Have newspaper publishers and editors really thought through all the repercussions? Is it just a numbers game; that is, do they think the volume of comments equals support for good journalism?

…We know that newspapers made a mistake and devalued their product by giving it away for free on the Internet. Some rebuilding could begin by removing these reader forums and restoring journalism’s dignity.

As one of the one hundred-plus commenters on Bailey’s piece noted: In a column in which Bailey bemoans the anonymity of— and unverified information peddled by— online commenters, he also includes a possibly “apocryphal” story of an unnamed “reporter” and references “a blog that has apparently gained a reputation as an ‘authoritative source’” but never names the blog…

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.