Saturday, April 5, 2014

14 Things to Remember When Posting on Comment Boards

As a professional writer for more than 20 years, I've been trained to accept criticism (and the occasional death threat) from disgruntled readers and demanding editors.

When I first started blogging in 2008, a colleague warned me that I should be prepared to hear from readers mostly when they have something not so nice to say. It would be a mistake, she cautioned, to gauge the cumulative effect of my work based on my "hate mail." It was a good thing she prepared me for the worst. Although it's not the only thing I get, I do get it, often at the most curious times.

I received some of the harshest comments of my blogging career several years ago when I had the nerve to wonder who could possibly be watching NCIS in my True/Slant "Pump Up the Volume" column. (Now I know!) Other beloved targets I've aimed at expecting to provoke significant ire -- Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift -- have encouraged next to none, while my sound judgment as a black man has been questioned for relatively tame things I've written about Usher and Michael Jackson.

Leading pop divas like Rihanna, Jennifer Lopez and Madonna remain excellent guarantees to lure eyeballs to my pages, but what I've written about them over the years has inspired minimal feedback, positive or negative (aside from the Facebook friend who once scolded me for daring to speak up "In Defense of Rihanna," as if I had endorsed selling pot to minors). With Lady Gaga blog posts, as with Lady Gaga the star, who knows what you'll get? It's best to just write and duck.

Meanwhile, say something nice about an under appreciated talent, a Dusty Springfield, an Alison Moyet or a Kristin Scott Thomas, and their fans come out in droves to support you and reprint your articles on other blogs. They've been the subjects of some of my most-read and most-reprinted posts over the course of the last nearly six years. Being undersung must make the hearts of fans grow fonder and beat louder.

As much as I would love to be adored by all, the liveliest comment boards are the ones featuring wildly dissenting opinions. So dear peanut gallery, keep them coming, proceed at my own risk. But remember: Despite my training, I still have thin skin, and, to quote Chrissie Hynde of Pretenders, I'm only human on the inside. Before you press "Send" in a fit of righteous indignation, here are some things to consider.

1. Comment boards are for everyone. That includes the people who write the articles. The beauty of online journalism and the main reason (aside from its immediacy) that it's killing print journalism is that it's so interactive. Journalism is no longer a one-way conversation where writers get to pontificate and readers have to listen up and shut up. I like to think of myself as the agenda setter. Once I do my part, it becomes a two-way street, a dialogue, with comments from the audience being integral to the experience -- and sometimes more interesting than the story!

I'm not one of those writers who stays out of the fray. I prefer to address the good and the bad. Sometimes my ideas evolve over the course of healthy comment-section debate. I might end up making a great point that I hadn't considered while writing the article, or I might learn something new, or I might change my course of thinking entirely. Journalism becomes conversational, more encompassing and more engaging.

2. If you have something nice to say, lead with that. It eases the potential sting of criticism while making the critiqued (hopefully) more receptive to it. Alas, there will always be regular commenters -- and Facebook friends -- who communicate best (and only) when they're being contrarian, dismissive or snarky. But if snark you must, keep in mind: Bitter lime may complement a shot of tequila, but a spoonful of sugar still helps the medicine go down. (Oh, and in related news: Not every situation needs a devil's advocate!)

3. Speaking of snark, on second thought, it's fun when it's diva vs. diva on daytime soaps, but snarkiness really has no place in intelligent, respectful discourse. Writers are people, too. (And so are actors and musicians.) Remember that when you decide to go for the kill on message boards. The words you read online weren't cobbled together by elves in the middle of the night. They were written by living, breathing human beings with feelings, so why not consider them? As I said, we are trained to accept constructive criticism, but nobody wants to be dismissed or brutally attacked after spending hours, if not days, or weeks, on an essay. Easy does it, and don't ever make it personal!

4. Don't comment until you've read the article. The title alone doesn't tell the whole story. I'm a huge fan of irony and the question-mark title, so sometimes what's implied in my titles is the opposite of what I say in my articles. Also, if you are going to zero in on a single sentence and latch onto it like a dog with the bone, don't pretend that it exists in a vacuum. Context is everything, and blog posts are generally more than one sentence long.

5. Don't look at me like you paid for Phantom of the Opera tickets. Excuse me for not being Somerset Maugham! I actually stole that bit from an episode of The Golden Girls (Thank you, Sophia!), but it applies to blogs, too. The content on most blogs is made available to the public for free, so don't click on it with an "Entertain me!" look on your face. If you don't like what you read on one blog, you are free to move on to another one -- for free.

6. Remember: Most bloggers are not being paid for their work. So commenting, "I can't believe [Insert blog name here] is paying you the big bucks to craft such drivel," will only remind us that we're toiling away for no pay for the dishonor of being abused by someone who doesn't even have the guts to reveal his or her true identity.

7. Don't put words in someone else's mouth. A reader recently took me to task for saying that Grindr was not created as a hook-up app when, in fact, I didn't offer any creation theory at all. His exact words: "The article writer stated that he didn't think Grindr was intended as a hookup App, that is factually wrong.... Ask the designer."

The actual words of "the article writer": "I've been told by sex suitors on Grindr to take my search for something more than Mr. Right Now elsewhere because Grindr is for hooking up only. What a curious conclusion to draw about an app that bans public nudity and sexual explicitness in profiles! I remind them that Grindr can be whatever you want it to be. After all, I have friends who met their boyfriends there."

But if the reader didn't even realize that he was communicating with the article writer, calling the article writer's defense of his own words "irrelevant," why should the article writer have expected him to understand what the article writer had written in the first place?

8. Stay on topic. If I don't like R. Kelly's latest album, feel free to tell me why you do, but don't make your dissenting opinion a treatise on racism among music critics. For all you know, I might be black, which brings me to my next point...

9. Don't make assumptions about people you don't know. Just because I write an article about dating younger guys and mention meeting one of my younger ex-boyfriends in a nightclub, doesn't mean that I only date younger guys or that my social life revolves around nightclubs, and that's why I can't meet a guy my own age.

10. Check your facts. The reader who found fault in my comments about Grindr may have been right when he pointed out that Grindr's nudity ban is the direct result of Apple's edict (however, with Grindr as its enforcer, the ban remains Grindr's), but his entire argument fell apart when he wrote, "Grindr is designed as a hookup App, just ask it's [sic] designer." If that were so, why did Grindr's designer include a "Looking for" section in which "Chat," "Friends," "Networking" and "Relationship" are offered as options?

11. Read a post, or comment, at least twice before you launch your attack. I was recently blasted by someone on Daytime Confidential for a comment I made regarding another poster's attack on him when I had been, in fact, defending the person berating me. Several other posters pointed out what he would have figured out for himself had he not been so blinded by his rage over the other poster's comments against him and reread what I had written.

12. And pot, before you meet kettle, reread your own words, too. I've rarely been accused of doing anything that the accuser wasn't guilty of doing one comment earlier.

13. Be willing to admit you were wrong. An apology will never go out of style. Shockingly, the poster above, the one I'd defended only to be told to "fuck off" in return, never bothered to say, "I'm sorry." That goes both ways: I once wrote an Adam Lambert blog post in which I recognized the error of my rash judgment in a previous Adam Lambert blog post and acknowledged the respectful way in which Lambert's fans had disagreed with me. At the end of the day (and the article), we all want to treated kindly, like human beings.

14. If you think you can do it better, then be my guest. Like reading most blogs (and J. Lo's love), it don't cost a thing.
Post a Comment