Bloggers vs. Mainstream Media: Reader Feedback

Hotline’s William Beutler reports on a confrontation between WaPo’s Deborah Howell and lefty bloggers Matt Stoler and John Aravosis at the National Press Club over the issue of reader comments on blogs.

Duncan “Atrios” Black notes that he has discovered of late that mainstream journalists are simply unused to dealing with readers.

Even reporters/columnists/etc who prominently display their emails get very little reader feedback. I was quite stunned to realize that the amount of reader feedback most reporters get – even now – is about the amount I was getting after I’d only been running this lemonade stand for a couple of months. Bloggers get a huge amount of feedback relative to their readership size, both in comments and in email, and I was shocked to realize that this wasn’t something most print journalists experienced.

This is indeed an odd thing, presumably just a function of the culture of blogs, where readers come in as equals and expect to participate, versus newspapers, where readers are simply consumers of information passed down from on high. Even though OTB tends not to generate the level of comments as other similarly-trafficked blogs, I still get hundreds of emails every single day. (Every comment posted on the site is instantly emailed to the post author.)

From my own experience, though, I would note that there may be an inverse effect going on, too. On the occasions when I have emailed a reporter from the AP or a major newspaper outlet, I have almost always gotten a response, often very quickly. Conversely, top bloggers tend not to respond unless asked a direct question.

Black continues,

Getting s—loads of nasty feedback when you get something wrong is, actually, “nothing.” It’s just another day as a blogger. I’ve always thought the whole “self correcting blogosphere” nonsense was just that, nonsense. Especially with all the mostly-conservative blogs which don’t have comments public correction requires that they actually, you know, correct themselves. But nonetheless everybody deals with the feedback, and anyone with even a modest amount of traffic deals with quite a lot of it.

Boo hoo. People were mean. Welcome to my world.

Beutler notes that virtually all blogs allow comments but that, among the incredibly high traffic sites, the conservatives are less likely to have comments than the liberals. Still, the “conservatives don’t allow comments” meme is owing entirely to about a half dozen sites.

As has been noted elsewhere, conservative bloggers tend to view their sites as “my house” whereas liberals tend to think of their sites as open forums. Perhaps, for the reasons that make them conservative or liberal, the former may be more offended by foul language or personal attacks than the later.

For the most part, my commenters are reasonably civil and I can police them using automated filters to keep out the spammers. Still, my preference is to keep the comments more-or-less on topic and reasonably civil, so I do occasionally delete offensive comments and have banned a handful (maybe a half dozen in nearly three years) of commenters.

That hasn’t been the case with Michelle Malkin, for example, who quickly ended comments on her site after receiving a substantial number of vitriolic comments. (See here and here, for examples.) Even if those comments are unrepresentative of the thousands of comments she received, I can’t blame her for not wanting to read them. Further, she still provides an email address and trackbacks, so readers and bloggers can certainly let their views on her posts be known.

Jane Hamsher notes the work of Kos Diarist jukeboxgrad in demonstrating that the volume of “hate speech” that the Post received on their site was less than advertised. Still, it is not particularly unreasonable for the Washington Post to have a lower tolerance for juvenile rantings than Eschaton.

Allowing readers to turn comments sections into free-for-alls is in the self interest of bloggers, since it encourages them to come back more often just to participate. Indeed, Eschaton and DailyKos would get more traffic than OTB if they quit providing new content entirely and just had numerous “open thread” posts every day.

But for those interested in a more focused, civil discussion of the issues, a moderated or even comment-free site may be preferable. To each his own. It’s not like there aren’t plenty of sites where trolls can go play.

FILED UNDER: Blogosphere, Media, , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. I wrote about this the other day. In fact, numerous times. It irritates me so much that the WaPo did what they did. I’m not a commenter there, but the fact is that commenting is the currency of blogs. I admire the Post for having the balls to jump into the blogosphere but they should have looked before they leaped and if they did not have the kahunas to deal with the commentary, they shouldn’t have joined. To turn comments off is cowardly and an insult to everyopne who works hard to get the readership they do have. WaPo is simply whoring their reputation for a few extra dollars and not even paying the piper to do so through comments.

  2. Eddie Thomas says:

    First, I agree that a newspaper has good reason to filter out comments that ordinary bloggers might let go, or shut off comments altogether. Many of their readers who find their way to the blog may not be blog-savvy, and would judge comments with the same standard as a letter to the editor. Why, as a business, would you risk it?

    Second, I find it odd that the lefty bloggers are claiming some kind of moral superiority because their sites have comments while the largest center/right sites do not. Isn’t that a sign that the incivility of the left exceeds that of the right? And isn’t it a sign that the right is more sensitive to that incivility?

    For reasons that I have forgotten I get a newsletter from a “justice movement” organization based in Atlanta. At least half of the articles describe, with much congratulation, leftists trying to obstruct the speech and activity of others. This kind of behavior is not unknown on the right, but conservatives don’t generally take this approach.

  3. Alexandra says:


    Even though your personal mantra is is simultaneously repeated verbatim on my blog and you obviously simply copy paste it onto several unrelated issue discussions to aggravate the right side of the blogosphere, I shall humor you with a response, obviously cross posted.

    Perhaps calling us “Fascist filth swallowers” makes you feel better, but it does not alter the fact that your own party is responsible for it’s downfall, NO ONE ELSE. And the so called “dignified walkout” you dream about is never going to happen, again for no other reason other than the incompetency of the screaming banshee Democratic Senators YOU as a party, no one else, have democratically elected.

    You have to stop blaming others for your own party’s inadequacies and shortcomings, and start looking at your so called filth outside your own doorstep. You can’t just keep jumping over the excrement outside your own doorstep and then run to the other side and scream how “they are full of shit”.

    No one is responsible for the downgrading of your own party and no amount of name calling of the other side, including your own President is going to change that.

    Sort yourselves out and then come back and insult, the insults may carry more weight then. As it stands it just makes you all look desperate.

    A further response is published as a post here.

  4. Alexandra says:

    I see that John’s comment has in the meantime been deleted but can be read in the link above, which hopefully won’t infringe upon the policy of OTB.