Should writers respond to comments?

A lot of my articles get published on major news sites, so they get a lot of eyeballs. They also get a lot of comments, most of which I never read.

Why? I simply don’t have the time. It would probably take a couple of hours each week to wade through all the various points readers make about the topics I’ve tackled. Some of them just want to vent. Some have personal experience with the subject, and they want to share it. But many, I’ve found, want to do something else altogether: launch a personal attack.

Snark, unfortunately, is endemic to the Internet. The anonymity of the medium makes it all too easy to spew venom at others and then slink away into obscurity. Under the guise of civil discourse, many commenters throw civility right out the window when they decide to comment on what they’ve read.

I made an exception to my don’t-read-the-comments rule after a recent story of mine also included a poll at the end inviting readers to participate. The story, which was published on MSNBC, was about the various “new” milks out there — such as almond, rice, goat and coconut — and a couple of thousand readers piped up to say what kinds they drink, and why. Since I obviously researched the subject thoroughly to write the article, I was curious to see how these milk varieties were being received by consumers.

I don’t actually remember which milk they picked as their overall favorite. I do, however, remember the snarky comments that started under the poll. One reader said that I had “conveniently forgot” to mention a certain point about cow’s milk, and I had to laugh. Such a statement implies that I had some sort of agenda for what I was writing — that I wanted to push my own message onto the masses. Nothing could have been farther from reality.

The truth? I simply hadn’t thought to include that point in the article. I also had a certain word count to adhere to, and a predetermined list of milks my editor asked me to cover. All of these factors figure into how coverage comes out — not to mention the editing process the piece undergoes before publication.

It’s different with this blog. The vast majority of you reading it do so because the theme and topics I cover here resonate with you in some way. Either you’re a freelancer, or a work-at-home parent, or a journalist with kids, or all three. Those who choose to comment (and I thank you) usually point out how something I’ve said fits their life to a T. Together, we have a sense of community here, and I not only read all my comments, I respond to the vast majority. This is a place to connect, and it feels good.

But my articles? I think I’ll stick to my rule, thanks. What works for you?

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About writearounditall

Welcome to Write Around It All. I’m Maureen Salamon, a freelance health & lifestyle writer who was a WAHM before WAHM was part of the vernacular. Four kids later, my days are a crazy cocktail of research, laundry, interviews, carpools, writing, errands and deadlines. I have it all, do it all and appreciate it all — most days. View all posts by writearounditall

6 responses to “Should writers respond to comments?

  • Meagan Francis

    Great question! If it’s on a site that’s a little more intimate, or it’s a very personal story, I will sometimes respond to comments. But big news sites? No way! Those comments sections bring out all the crazies, the nit-pickies and the people with too much time on their hands. I just can’t bring myself down like that!

    • writearounditall

      I guess that’s the gist of it, Meagan — a lot of the comments could bring me down. If they were constructive, that would be one thing, but the “nit-pickies” (love that term!) seem to rule. No thanks!

  • eliana23

    I do a blog for the Chronicle of Higher Education, which I would think would be a fairly decent audience of thinking people, but there are still attacks on me–not what I say, on me as a person. So I have learned my lesson and try to avoid the comments. Glad to know I’m not alone.

    • writearounditall

      What amazes me, Eliana, is how people feel they can attack writers as people. What do they really know about us, after all? Particularly from what we’d write in places like the Chronicle of Higher Educatiion, or MSNBC. It’s appalling at times — and no, you’re definitely not alone!

  • Jamie Brown

    I just discovered your blog and am enjoying it! Holding back and refraining from responding to comments is a real challenge. I own my own public relations company and I tell my clients to give the audience credit for being comprised of mostly intelligent rational people, and realize those who are negative and rude represent a scant few.

    • writearounditall

      Thanks for commenting, Jamie. I’m certainly not alone in reacting (or not reacting) to comments as I do. The Internet makes some people bolder — and therefore snarkier — and others more eloquent. It’s definitely a challenge to figure out how to respond!

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