Ask the Coach

Just another Freedom Forum Diversity Institute weblog

Hateful Online Comments


Dear Coach,

I can’t stand reading the online comments about my stories. They are often hateful and hurtful. In response to any story that has to do with race or immigration, the comments are ugly and racist. My question is, Are we doing ourselves a disservice by not reading the comments? Is it something we need to do to “keep in touch” with what our readers are thinking? – Thin-skinned

Dear Thin,

You answer half of your own question in the way you sign your name. In order to navigate the online comments, a reporter needs to be thick-skinned. Yes, you would be doing yourself a disservice by ignoring the comments altogether. But you can develop a (thick-skinned) way of skimming them, ignoring the haters and learning to quickly spot the legitimate comment from a reader with a legitimate concern. You might even respond to those legit comments. You may learn something important about the story you’ve written, or find an avenue to a good follow story. You may gain a fan for life.

Chips alum Zuri Berry, a sports producer for Boston.com, recently wrote a column on this very topic. “Nowadays, I’m definitely in the camp of don’t read the comments on your stories,” he said. “I think being in a large market has everything to do with it. In my last job, a very small market with a paper circulation of 16K, I knew the commenters. My responses to their negative or positive postings were always met with positivity …But here, the sheer number of comments, both negative and positive, oftentimes makes it impossible to respond to all of the individual gripes and half truths thrown my way.”

But Berry does respond to each email, a good practice as well. It is a shame that in many places, the anonymous postings on stories have become a breeding ground for negative discourse. But that is the nature of anonymity. Again, skim. Learn to spot the good and the true. Respond. Keep thickening that skin.

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