Readers' comments are entertaining, off-the-wall

By Mike Jiggens, Special to Delhi News-Record

One of the things I’ve come to enjoy in recent years when it comes to catching up on the day’s news is to read the “reader comments” which are tagged at the end of news stories on the Internet. Letters to the editor printed in newspapers are usually enjoyable to read, but only so many are printed due to space limitations (or a lack of them). As for television or radio, there are normally little or no viewer or listener comments aired.

Fortunately, many newspaper, television and radio station websites give news junkies the opportunity to comment about what they read, see or hear in a timely fashion. What I enjoy most about these comments sections is the inevitable debate which ensues among those who take the time to submit their two cents’ worth.

For example, a story on the Toronto Sun’s website on the weekend, about a father in Don Mills who was upset that he was not permitted to watch his daughter’s swim club practice, generated a total of 488 comments as of 9 p.m. on Sunday. It wasn’t exactly light reading, but it certainly was entertaining.

Some comments struck a nerve among some readers which triggered some serious back and forth rebuttals. At the centre of the original news story was the fact that this swim group included some Muslim girls. Thus no male spectators were allowed in to watch. It’s not difficult to imagine the type of debate it initiated.

It’s often the case that the readers’ debate takes a different fork in the road, a thread which has nothing to do with the original news story, and suddenly it takes on a new life which can be just as addictive to follow.

Some of those who submit comments are brave enough to sign off with their own names. Most, however, choose a username which keeps them anonymous. It is usually the latter who submit the most off-the-wall, poorly-researched comments which wouldn’t particularly flatter their reputations if their real names were given.

Traditionally, the letters to the editor section of a newspaper is one of its most read and most popular features. A news story written about something which could have a profound impact on the average citizen is bound to generate plenty of letters. It’s no different on the Internet.

Anything to do with Toronto Mayor Rob Ford or bad boy musician Justin Bieber is guaranteed reader response fodder. The news item from the weekend in which Bieber made a racial slur caught on video from a few years ago generated 447 comments on the Daily Mail’s website as of 9:30 p.m. Sunday. I read only the first few posted because I don’t wish to waste a great deal of my time reading about Canada’s greatest embarrassment.

So news media websites are both informative and entertaining. The information comes from the news item itself while the reader comments provide the entertainment. The webmasters who deal with the reader comments generally enforce such guidelines as good taste (or at least as good as possible), no profanity, etc. But one thing which is readily apparent is that readers don’t require a great deal of intelligence.

Mike Jiggens is a Delhi resident. His column appears regularly in the Delhi News-Record

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