NH Irony in Action: Does Cutting Off Your Readers Actually Engage Them?

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Why Should You Care NH,
By Bob Charest

Ironic: Happening in the opposite way to what is expected, and typically causing wry amusement because of this.

This column shall henceforth be known as the tale of four ironies, yes: four. Count ’em.

A young man on vacation in the Greek islands is chased, beaten and killed by a group of people in a bar. By all accounts, the young man, a student who was traveling throughout Europe, was a great guy, a good friend, and not one to ever share an unkind word with anyone.

Then security footage appears of the man being chased into the street, and 20 seconds later – 20 seconds! – the man is dead from head injuries.

Bob Charest

What gives? There’s not enough reporting in this case to give me any idea what could have happened inside that bar that would lead possibly 14 people to chase someone out into the street and savagely kill him. I don’t think even after the truth of this one is out, I will be able to wrap my head around why this happened. All I keep hearing is that there was a lot of drinking involved.

Sometimes, people have viewpoints that differ radically from my own. Sometimes, someone on a comment board will suggest something that never occurred to me. Sometimes, someone will say something that will be plain moronic, I admit.

But as a news consumer, that’s for me to decide. Fully realizing and anticipating what I am in for, I scroll down to see what the comments may or may not reveal about this whole episode because frankly, I need to know I live in a world where I can see that others think this whole thing is crazy, too, that young men do not have their heads bashed in because they are tourists in a foreign country.

And I read this:
“MSN has temporarily removed commenting on our websites while we explore better ways for you to engage in discussion on the issues you care about.”

By now most of you know that around the Fourth of July, or Independence Day, (this seems kind of ironic to me: Irony No. 1) the New Hampshire Union Leader also removed the comments section from its website, inviting people to instead write them letters to the editor or use other forms of social media to comment or express their views.

An article later in the week in the Concord Monitor explaining the Union Leader’s stance (something I also find ironic: Irony No. 2) notes the trend and the Union Leader’s position. (By the way, the Concord Monitor still allows comments on its online stories.) It takes work and manpower to police those comment boards.

I went looking and was surprised to see that lots of news sites are no longer accepting comments. Is this the future? I looked at WMUR-TV’s website and couldn’t find a way to comment. A little research revealed they actually ended the website comments back in May. Who knew? Die-hards may still comment on their Facebook posts, however.

Ironically (there’s that word again: Irony No. 3), all media nowadays are actively seeking to engage their audience, so how does cutting their readers off accomplish that goal?

NPR recently shut down its comment boards online, and its managing editor of digital news was quoted as saying they were not providing a useful experience for the vast majority of users.

Is this the criterion? The content goes bye-bye if it doesn’t produce a useful experience for the vast majority? I’d say nine-tenths of what I read in an average day falls into that category. Have you ever been submerged in the black hole of click-through slideshows such as “You wouldn’t believe what (fill in the blank) looks like now!” You get the point.

And now, here’s the really big irony (Irony No. 4): I had no idea before I wrote and submitted this column that InDepthNH.org founder Nancy West had turned off the comment section for this website!

“I had to turn off the comment section because I don’t have time to monitor it the way it should be monitored,” she told me after I submitted the column. “Some offensive comments were posted and stayed up for almost 24 hours before I saw them and took them down. I have decided because of your terrific column, Bob, to try something new because we very much want reader input. Comments can be emailed to me at nancywestnews@gmail.com and I will post them at the end of the story as long as they add to the conversation and are civil in nature.”

So there I go creating change with my column! Victory is mine.

I believe comment sections provide a useful experience for those willing to put in the work. By that, I mean you must sift through the racist, homophobic, incredibly insensitive stuff and find that little pearl of wisdom waiting there somewhere. OK, I admit, sometimes that shell is empty.

But sometimes, you will hear a bit of wisdom or find a position you hadn’t considered. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll think about it and think about it. Then something will happen inside your head, and heaven forbid, you might actually change your mind!

Isn’t that something, changing your mind? It seems to happen less and less nowadays. All of us are chattering away at each other, sitting in our own spaces, listening to voices that sound very much like our own. It sounds good until you realize: When are we going to start listening to each other and not just stand on a soapbox and preach?

Maybe the comments section bothers you. They bother me sometimes. But is ending them the right way to go?

(Readers should note that since there is no comments section associated with this column, you may send your comments to nancywestnews@gmail.com, and she will be the final arbiter of what is appended here. I’m wishing for nuggets of wisdom, if there are any to be had.)

email nancywestnews@gmail.com to comment on Bob’s column


Bob Charest has been in the news business since 1977. He has worked at newspapers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire as a reporter and editor. A graduate of Boston University, he has consulted with InDepthNH.org on editing and grant proposals since before its founding in 2015. He write on topics related to advances in technology and how they have affected our privacy in America.

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