I had a Llewellyn Sinclair moment (except I was sincere) when a top magazine editor friend and reader of this blog e-mailed this to me just now:
That made me feel great about this blog, so, thank you, my spectacularly good commenters. I am going to inaugurate a new award, the Evans-Manning Prize, for especially good comments, like Edward Hamilton’s earlier today about social networking and success. It’s named after two of this blog’s best and most longstanding commenters, Franklin Evans and Erin Manning, who could hardly be more unalike religiously, but who are both models of intelligence, balance, thoughtfulness and civility.
I heard a few months ago from a Washington friend who told me that a prominent DC editor he spoke to at a party also remarked on what a great comments section this blog had. Again, hats off to all of you. But perhaps this might shed some light on what an editor (in this case, me), can do to make this happen. I can’t make you write smart things, but I can make this a forum where people who do write smart things find it easier to be heard, and to hear others.
Back when I first started blogging on Beliefnet, in 2006, I had no control over the comments threads. It was a wild west where everyone had equal voice. Very quickly I found that commenters with the loudest mouths — who usually had the least intelligent or interesting comments — drove out the better commenters. It was impossible to sustain any kind of engaging conversation, because too many people who had no interest in a conversation were yelling, and yelling provocative things at everybody else. Bnet eventually gave me control over the comments section, and I began ruthlessly weeding the thing. Over time — and I’m talking about a couple of years — the loudmouths quit coming around, because they learned that they wouldn’t get posted, or, when I figured out that they were posting under a pseudonym, I’d take down everything they’d written. It was a lot of work, but I believed, and still believe, that a good blogger also tends his comments section, as much as he is able.
I find now that I don’t often have to trash a comment from a regular, or ban anybody, because if you keep coming around, you know the rules (mainly, no personal insults, and stick to the topic). My tendency is to let folks march right up to the line — I don’t like not posting things — but I’m pleased with the quality of discussion we have here, and the diversity of perspectives, so I try to keep a tight rein on what goes up. This morning it was jarring to see comments on an old thread pop up, denouncing “libtards.” The old post had been picked up by a more ideological right-wing site, whose commenters came over here and filed comments in their usual style. I did not post them. Similarly, when ideological left-wing sites link to something here, I’ll get the same sort of remarks from left-liberal commentators. They usually don’t go up either.
The bottom line is that I want to have a comments section that’s worth reading. I almost never read the comments sections of other blogs, because invective dominates most of them. I’d be interested to hear from you about how you think I could improve the comments section here, though. Sometimes I’ll post something that seemed iffy, but okay, and then I’ll regret having done so.
Anyway, once more: thanks, readers, for making this such a good site to read, and such a pleasure to edit.
UPDATE: Let me put it like this — when I curate the comments section, I always have at the back of my mind the kind of conversation I would want to have take place in my living room, over beer. If you say things I wouldn’t be comfortable with you saying in my living room — which is not to say things I agree with, or would say myself! — then I’m probably not going to let you say them in the comments thread. I try to be consistent with this principle, but I’m not always able to be. Sorry.