Monthly Archives: July 2011

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?