Enough with the reader comments

Published 3:10 pm Saturday, February 28, 2009

I finally hit my personal breaking point of disgust with the comments section of AlbertLeaTribune.com. Within a week’s time I had to read disparaging comments about a hockey coach winning his 600th career game and about a student-driven project called Kids Against Hunger. I am astounded people could form negative thoughts about either proud accomplishment.

I respect the work done by Tribune Publisher Scott Schmeltzer and Editor Tim Engstrom. Both are civic-minded, astoundingly kind and interesting individuals. We are lucky to have them heading our community newspaper. But, please, Tim and Scott, I beg you to retire the comments section of your Web site.

When I moved to Albert Lea almost four years ago I was warned by plenty of people about a Web site to avoid: www.albertlea.com. I was told it was essentially a chat room for rumormongers and negative-thinking people, those who generally see the glass as half empty and who are more concerned with complaining than fixing, helping or making a difference.

Email newsletter signup

Today, I see the Tribune’s Web site as a replacement for www.albertlea.com, albeit one that originates with actual reportage by trained reporters using factual details. Nonetheless, the Tribune’s Web site now seems like a place for rumormongers and negative-thinking people.

It seems the Tribune has become so enamored with the number of hits its Web site receives because that translates into proven data they can show advertisers. “Hey, look at all the traffic your ad will get. Look at the numbers.”

As the Time magazine cover story (“How to Save Your Newspaper: A Modest Proposal”) stated — a piece that’s been discussed by a Tribune editorial, the editor’s column and in a letter to the editor — the business model for newspapers needs to return to satisfying its customers, not simply satisfying those who help pay the bills (businesses).

I used to tell anyone who would listen about the healthy dialogue this newspaper had in the form of its Letters to the Editor section. Few newspapers of similar or even larger circulations receive the volume of letters consistently printed in this newspaper. But it seems there are fewer letters lately, which means less public debate between people who attach their names to what they write. Those who drive these silly, negative comments (chat room-style) debates, which often devolve into back-and-forth banter equivalent of that you may hear on an elementary school playground — nisperos, NoDFL, Virginian, MRALBERTLEA, wingo, the_truth and many others — are cowards who hide behind monikers. Often the back-and-forth bickering becomes so personal the original Tribune story topic is long forgotten.

My moniker was Rdubb. I commented a couple times. From now on if I have something to say I will write a letter to the editor with my actual name and contact information attached. In this signed letter to the editor, my pledge is to quit reading the comments section, including any anonymously responding to this letter, and to greatly decrease my contribution to the Web site’s hits count.

Riley Worth

Albert Lea