Site Notes

What if RTH Turned Comments into Letters to the Editor?

By Larry Pattison
Published June 14, 2013

Before I go any further, I would first like to state that I am quite pleased with the 'new' look of Raise the Hammer. I placed quotes around new, because I knew this layout had existed as a Beta version for some time. I am glad it has moved from Beta to production. These visually minor details somehow complete this site.

Secondly, those who have been a part of the RTH community for awhile, know that like any other site that opens their content to commenting, trolls are a breed that brings down the integrity and enjoyment of what is otherwise important and mostly informed commentary.

With these new changes to Raise the Hammer, it prompted me to think about a Twitter account I stumbled upon recently. The user goes by the name 'Don't Read Comments', and the Twitter handle is @AvoidComments.

There are so many gimmick accounts out there that claim to provide inspiration quotes and such, but often I find the real motive behind these inspiritors, is to plug countless other twitter accounts who promise you will get thousands of followers if you follow them. Like all Social Media sites, there is a tonne of crud out there.

But this account intrigued me to read on. I was skeptical and mainly because where RTH is concerned, sometimes the comments have more teeth than the articles itself. However, after reading through a handful of tweets from this person, I was determined to ignore comments sections going forward.

It's hard to stay true to my mid-year resolution to avoid comments, however, when it comes to RTH.

I realize that so many respect this site as a valuable part of our community, and count on the information provided here to keep us informed and engaged in this city we love enough to fight the good fight for, but what if we did away with comments on this site?

"NO!!!" you say, but hear me out.

What if the 'Comments' section was re-named 'Letters to the Editor'? What if everyone who contributed to this site, had to have an account and if you wanted to 'comment', it had to be in the form of a Letter? You'd actually have to take the time to formally write a piece that conforms to Letters guidelines.

If the guidelines are not followed (and there should be a link to those guidelines right beside the words 'Letters to the Editor' at the bottom of each article), it constitutes a Letter being deleted by an editor or perhaps forum moderators.

If your Letter exceeds the word max, then it must be approved as an article on RTH, with a link to the approved article within the Letters section of its related article.

Surely, seeing as though nobody is paid to be editor at RTH, articles that pose 80 comments would be impossible to manage 60 or so letters (weeding out the 20 comments from trolls), so Letters would be published immediately, but it would be easier for admins to delete accounts of those whose presence here is not of a supporting nature or those that continually disregard Letter guidelines set by RTH staff.

All accounts must be real names, with real email addresses, just like Letters to the Editor of any newspaper.

Could this be a way to go for online media? Especially sites like RTH where, for the most part, comment content is of an equal and sometimes even greater value?

Perhaps, in line with ensuring all voices are heard, a new tab could be placed at the top of the RTH header for articles that were never born. Ever felt editors were weeding out information they didn't want the public to be informed of? Have so many things to say but just can't formulate those thoughts into article form?

Perhaps this section could serve as a place for un-edited pieces that never saw the light of day for whatever reason. Either their relevance had passed for a piece written six months after an election that was about an electoral candidate, the piece was an editing nightmare, or what have you.

It could be a way to build further trust amongst readers. Maybe not a lot of people or no one, reads those random thoughts, or maybe someone with the creative will, takes those spewed words and formulates them (giving credit to the original author), to a formulated article.

Just a couple of things to ponder.

I'll leave you with a few tweets from @AvoidComments. I am sure they will get you thinking, if nothing else.

"I saw a sound, well-reasoned argument in an internet comment, and it made me reconsider my position." -- Nobody, ever

"The problem with internet comments is that you can never really know who's saying them." -- Winston Churchill

Nobody on their deathbed ever said, "I wish I had spent more time reading internet comments."

No journalist has ever said, "Good thing that guy left that vitriolic comment -- now I know how much I suck."

Back in the day, we called comments "letters to the editor." Someone read them, picked the best ones, & published them. Many were STILL bad.

Yes, there are comments. No, you're not going to read them.

Seeing a good internet comment is like finding money in your clothes: nice when it happens, but not something to base your life around.

"What an interesting article! I can't wait to read what the average internet denizen thinks about it!" Just stop right there. You're wrong.

You're feeling crappy right now, I can tell. It's probably because you read a comments section.

You don't need to read the comments section to see a group of jerks not listen to each other and waste time. We have congress for that.

Thinking of reading comments? Instead, call your oldest relative. He or she will appreciate your time much more than comments denizens will.

Larry Pattison is a local blogger, life-long resident of Hamilton, and father to two amazing girls. Larry is a former HWDSB Trustees for Ward 3.

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By UrbanMom (registered) | Posted June 14, 2013 at 10:44:15

While I support this idea, on the whole, there might be legitimate reasons to use a pseudonym: my discussing things, even seemingly innocuous things, could reflect on my partner and affect his work and the people he works with. Or it might affect my business. I support such things as one way street conversions and extensive bike lanes, but I'd hate to think that by stating my opinion, someone who does not hold that opinion would be prejudiced against me when they were looking to hire someone in my industry.

Just a thought.

Vetted accounts are definitely one way to approach reducing trolling.

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By Jay Robb (anonymous) | Posted June 17, 2013 at 11:52:34

To borrow a line from Eric Schmidt & Jared Cohen "the true cost of remaining anonymous, then, might be irrelevance; even the most fascinating content, if tied to an anonymous profile, simply won’t be seen because of its excessively low ranking."

I've yet to post an anonymous comment or tweet online (then again I also sign my name to surveys, feedback forms and 360 peer evaluations).

If you've got something to say that you believe in, have the courage of your convictions and put your name to it.

I may not agree with your stand on an issue, but I'll respect you for staking a position. And who wants to spend their days surrounded by people who all think the same way?

I've also found that tuning out anonymous comments is a good way to keep from losing faith in humanity.

For me, the signed letters to the editor in The Spec carry far more weight than the anonymous snark posted at thespec.com and elsewhere online.

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted June 18, 2013 at 14:38:22

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