Article Comment 

Scott Colom: Why anonymous commentators are good for us


Scott Colom



The comments after articles on The Commercial Dispatch website sometimes feel like a virtual battlefield. Anonymous commentators hide in the bunkers, waiting to fire bullets about topics like the CVB or the public schools. When they do, a brigade of commentators defend or respond to the attacks with equal ferocity. The back and forth name calling, accusations, and challenges between the commentators can go on for days, and there''s rarely a peace accord.  


Yet, I believe these anonymous battles can help improve the quality of local reporting in the Internet age.  


The emergence of computers and the Internet has dramatically changed what has been a staple of American discourse for centuries, the printed newspaper.  


The Internet has gone from being the new frontier for communication to a medium that permeates our lives. We have e-mails, instant messaging and social networking. Every interest, every topic, and the answer to every question is a Google search away. 


Needless to say, the popularity of the Internet has resulted in a significant decrease in newspaper subscriptions. Across the country, newspapers have struggled to respond to this decrease. The free ethos of the Internet makes it difficult for newspapers to charge for online content, and, even the newspapers that charge a subscription fee are not able to remotely replace the lost revenue from the decline in print news.  


This development has had negative side-effects on local reporting about municipal government. A recent study ordered by the Federal Communications Commission found that the reduction in revenue for newspapers has resulted in less money available for community papers to investigate and report about local government. The writer of the report, Steven Waldman, warned that this means the press is less of a watchdog and, as a result, local governments are less accountable to its citizens.  


Newspapers can compensate for the decline in local reporting by emphasizing the interactive features available with the Internet. Unlike with print newspapers, readers can respond to online articles. They can instantaneously express their opinions about the statements and actions of local officials and comment on the accuracy or thoroughness of a reporter''s work. Other readers can respond to these comments and important, organic dialogue can take place.  


The anonymity of most commentators allows people to make these comments without exposing their identity, and this can allow for sharper criticism and aggressive rhetoric. A few of my columns have been subjected to this. After reading "Cheering for Leondra and Omar," zenreaper, a regular commentator at the Dispatch website, called me a "disgrace to my race." (In all fairness, zenreaper has complimented subsequent columns.)  


Despite this, the benefits from allowing anonymity far outweigh the negatives. In a small town like Columbus, opinions spread fast. People are more likely to know each other, and, if they don''t know each other, are more likely to have similar acquaintances or be familiar with a name. Therefore, it can be difficult to keep conversations and opinions confidential. Anonymity allows people to speak without worrying about subjecting themselves to animosity or revenge or breaking our tradition of Southern politeness. 


Certainly, online commentary can''t completely replace local reporting. Local papers should take additional steps to use the interactive features of the Internet to replace traditional news, such as inviting bloggers to write on the website or creating online forums to question politicians. The trend towards reading news online will only increase in the decades to come as younger generations, folks who grow up reading news on a computer screen rather than in a paper, mature. The newspapers that realize people are becoming more accustomed to interacting with the news and effectively respond to this trend will prosper.


Scott Colom is a local attorney.


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Reader Comments

Article Comment hope commented at 6/15/2011 2:30:00 PM:

Thank you for this article. This is an opportunity for me to present this comment without having to place it in the dispatch with my real name attached to it. If people find out who I am, they will want me to run for office, but I don't want to divert my time away from fishing and being with my family, and ofcourse working.
I just read that some lawmakers have filed a suit against President Obama because they think he abused the War Powers Act over Libya, by not getting their permission, although he has until june 17th. Also the House has voted to cut off all funding for Libya.
But if you lie like Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Rove and many more, and go by the book with the lawmakers, you can fight a war until you run out of bullets, manpower, and money. The name of that one is IRAQ!


Article Comment frank commented at 6/15/2011 5:17:00 PM:

A well written article Scott. In the "olden days" I always heard that the subscription price of a newspaper was set at a level to cover the cost of printing including the paper, ink, labor, etc. The actual profits were in the advertising sales. As papers move to the web, production costs go down and potentially circulation goes up. If done right, I think good newspapers will survive and even thrive long into the future. Like many other businesses, the survivors will be the ones that evolve with changing times. The interactive features the Dispatch have implemented are a sign that this paper is a survivor. As much as us evil commenters like to bash it, one must compliment the CD on their web efforts. Hey, I think they even pay attention and make changes every now and then even if the menu on the obit page is three generations behind the rest of the paper...

Hopeless for Mayor? NOT!


Article Comment raider commented at 6/15/2011 11:12:00 PM:

Scott, this is an excellent article. I totally agree with you on the importance of anonymity of the commenters. The commenters truly bring a different and refreshing dimension to the paper. Opinion writers are forced to do some homework because they will be called out for any mis-statements.

Keep up the good work. I think your next story should be a more in-depth report on the FCC study. I believe the loss of revenue by newspapers has had a negative effect on in-depth investigations and reporting on complex issues and has turned news reporting into 30 second ads and sensationalized headlines.


Article Comment melody commented at 6/16/2011 7:44:00 AM:

You gotta be kidding me. Hope thinks someone will ask him to run for office? What office would that be? Is there an office of Bush haters around somewhere? But wait, Obama has finally claimed to be the owner of our economy so there's no need for "blame Bush" demonizers anymore , so don't worry hope, no one will ask you to "run for office". If you are thinking about Obama asking you to join his pitiful administration, unless you are a huge donner to his campaign you don;t stand a chance. He loves to pay back those who give over 500k , naturally using our money. The shovel ready jobs he spoke of in the "stimulus" hand out acounted for 5 percent of the trillion dollars. The rest went to his big supporters. So you don't have a chance there and he just laughs about the whole thing, about making chumps out of the poor libs who were sucked into sending that 10-15 dollar donation to his campaign. What a disgrace --actually laughing in your face about making a fool of those who voted for him while believing his lies. Frank is right-you are hopeless---bless your heart


Article Comment hope commented at 6/16/2011 10:03:00 AM:

@melody:To hate someone they must give you a reason. Here's one more Bush blunder. The Iraqi and U.S. governments have been unable to account for a substantial chunk of the billions of dollars in reconstruction aid the Bush administration literally airlifted into the country. Pentagon officials determined that one giant C-130 Hercules cargo plane could carry $2.4 billion in shrink-wrapped bricks of $100 bills. They sent an initial full plane load of cash, followed by 20 other flights to Iraq by May 2004 in a $12 billion haul that U.S. officials believe to be the biggest international cash airlift of all time. More than $6.6 billion became unaccounted for. And the Republicans claim President Obama and the Democrats are the big spenders.
Witnesses testified that millions of dollars were shoved into "gunnysacks" and disbursed to Iraqi contractors on pick-up trucks with little or no accounting by the U.S. government.
The Republican party broke our government and now we are being blackmailed by them with all of their propaganda.
(Deceivers and Liars)


Article Comment gogetum commented at 6/16/2011 11:54:00 AM:

Might as well go fishing hope--the bush bash is a waste of your time. To help your argument in support of Obama why not try to come up with a positive accomplishment that Obama has done . I bet you won't be able to find any so you might as well go fishing. Hard to believe you have a job, if so when do you work? Looks like you will be under republican rule after next year so might stock up on the fish bait and plan on fishing a lot for the next 8 years to keep you from exploding . Obama is already talking like he's finished , sorta like the wee wee weener who is hanging it up today.


Article Comment hope commented at 6/16/2011 12:08:00 PM:

@gogetum;just saw on the news that 64% of the people do not blame Obama for our bad economy.


Article Comment newsjunkie commented at 6/18/2011 12:22:00 AM:

Scott, just to play the devil's advocate... it could be said that when we all have to sign our names to what we say, we will be sure to say exactly what we mean with much more tact and civility than when we do when we are anonymous. We do end up with several rumors, inuendos, and just plain rude personal remarks on these comment pages! I guess that's progress?


Article Comment hope commented at 6/18/2011 11:05:00 AM:

@newsjunkie;Going Global;would you please forward your comments to FOX news, to the devil's advocate, Glenn Beck, and to the "flame thrower" Rush Limbaugh, with a lot of emphasis on "just plain rude personal remarks."
FOX had a guest speaker the other day explaining how to cut expenses on Medicare. He says you only need to get a colonoscopy every ten (10) years. What a nut! They must think people who listen to them are illiterate.


Article Comment gogetum commented at 6/18/2011 2:49:00 PM:

Your neighbors would move if they new you were posting as "hope". The devils acvocate and newsjunkie are the same person, hope. You never watch fox news or glenn beck and you never listen to the rushmo. All you know about them is what msnbc feeds you, hope. Speaking of wasting our tax money, just look what the Obama clan is doing now, they are going on another vacation but this time to the mother land. Maybe they'll stay and not come back. they don't like it here anyhow so why not.


Article Comment hope commented at 6/18/2011 3:41:00 PM:

@gogetum:Was probably watching FOX when you were posting your comment. This guest speaker was saying how much better off this country would be without trial lawyers. They even had their own audience and they would applaude every time he made a remark against the lawyers. Typical Republican network, against the people. FOX is a brainwashing network, with the people on there saying what the people who own 90% of the wealth, are telling them to say.


Article Comment frank commented at 6/18/2011 4:35:00 PM:

Hopeless is getting a satellite dish so she can watch Keith Olbermann who was too corrupt even for MSNBC.


Article Comment gogetum commented at 6/18/2011 4:38:00 PM:

If fox is a brainwashing network and you arn't brainwashed by it, you either don't watch it or you don't have a brain to wash. Which is it? Surely you have a brain so I think I was right in my previous post- all you know about it is what your liberal biased msnbc feeds you. Liberals have a tendency of putting both feets in mouths. By the way , you never did say where you work.


Article Comment zenreaper commented at 6/18/2011 6:32:00 PM:

Gosh Scott, your are making me blush, LOL. Thanks for the shout out, and especially for the addition of the compliments I have posted about ya. Good to see we can disagree on TOPICS, but respect each other overall.

Hope, I think we should ALL follow the words of Obama. Not the Obama NOW, who thunmbs his nose at the War Powers Act, the then Senator Obama, who hammered Bush for violating the War Powers Act.

Of course, you little Obamaniacs are in a real quandry now, because regardless of the side you take, Obama was wrong on ONE of them.


Article Comment hope commented at 6/18/2011 7:35:00 PM:

@zenreaper;Too bad they didn't vote to defund which ever war you're talking about, as they're talking about doing to Libya.


Article Comment zenreaper commented at 6/18/2011 7:56:00 PM:

Gee Hope, they didn't defund it, because Bush took it in front of them, provided them with the intelligence HE had, from the CIA, MI5 and the Russian intelligence agency (this part I added to defuse what will INVARIABLY be said, that he LIED to them, which he did not). He made his case, and Congress APPROVED it. All congress is asking is for the same opportunity. But Obama is to IMPORTANT to be bothered by such things as the law and procedure.


Article Comment hope commented at 6/20/2011 7:19:00 AM:

@gogetum;here's more brainwashing by FAUX. O'Reily was showing this T-shirt to his many viewers and selling it, that had printed on it Navy Seals 1, Bin Laden 0. But here's what they left off. Bin Laden attacked us on US soil, killing over 3,000 Americans. He caused us to go to war with Afghanistan for 10 years with no end in sight, at a cost of trillions of dollars and countless number of lives lost and injuries, and having to add more manpower and money to homeland security, just to mention a few. His intention from the start was to destroy us finanacially, and he may very well have accomplished that.


Article Comment roscoe p. coltrain commented at 6/20/2011 12:36:00 PM:

Mr. Mayor, when are we going to see some movement on that ditch project you promised last month?


Article Comment walter commented at 7/5/2011 1:08:00 PM:

Once more, Scott, you have written another very timely article and one that is right on point. CD had some very gifted writers already on staff, including a great publisher and editor. With you submitting periodic articles, like the ones you have compiled, The CD is a top-flight paper that others will find it impossible to surpass.

Columbus has always had residents and citizens who have bever been afraid to express their opinion. Thanks to you, we now have a forum that enbles us to post and also to receive feedback, whether the feedbck is pro or con.



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