It’s been an interesting week when it comes to media relationships. First, Jeff Pearlman went and found some of his trolls – people commenting negatively on his blog and sending him pornographic messages in his email – and confronted them on their home turf. While I found his actions somewhat uncomfortable, the results were at least mildly interesting. For the most part, the trolls felt that their voice had been heard, apologized, and said that they didn’t think anyone would see what they said or care.
That might have been fine and good until one of the trolls revealed himself to be a blogger that was trying to get a rise by attaching his name to some negative comments about Pearlman. Well, that happens too, but is also mildly interesting because it’s part of the ‘get noticed by any means necessary’ trend in the media. It’s akin to coming out negatively about a well-liked but well-built first baseman like Jeff Bagwell, in a strange way. It’s being contrary just for the sake of being different.
By now, I’d felt somewhat interested and slightly queasy about both sides of this interaction. Pearlman seemed a little desperate to be interacting with his trolls in a creepy way, and his attacker blatantly desperate for attention. Both lacked class here.
Enter Craig Calcaterra, Marc Normandin, and Tim Marchman, three men I respect, and class found its way back into the discussion. Normandin used fewer than 140 characters to get it right: “Kill trolls with kindness. And return troll volleys.” Calcaterra focused on his ability to avoid trolls in a similar way when he wrote about engaging his commenters and keeping an up-beat tone on his message boards by interacting. Marchman focused on the fact that the internet is not there for you to feel better about yourself – vanity searches and an unhealthy focus on the comments and reactions to your writing are not productive.
All of these guys are right, and I have only one last, tiny, insignificant thing to add: Many of my commenters are smarter than I am. It’s true. Hopefully they aren’t smarter AND can write better – that would portend poorly for my future – but many commenters in the baseball space know more about certain teams, players, and sabremetric principles than I do. It’s just true. There’s always someone out there that knows more than you do about something.
So my advice for a healthy comment space is simple. Ignore all the talk that lacks substance. Engage, politely, the comments that either have something to add or have missed the point. Small re-directs can make members of both of these classes into productive members of your online community, and often you’ll find legitimate critiques or good ideas for further discussion.
This is pretty close to what Craig is talking about, for sure. I might only be adding a tone to his approach. The tension between humility and expertise is a tough one for baseball writers to balance correctly, but finding the right balance is tantamount to success. There is a way to flex your analytical chops and show your unique knack for putting the days’ events into focus while still avoiding disseminating the feeling that you are on the mountaintop giving sermons about The Way Things Are.
The way to success, in my humble opinion, is to focus on probing, questioning, and exploring – and then engaging others politely when they comment on your proposals. That’s what our pieces are – proposals on possible narratives that explain the day’s events. The best possible scenario has a writer working with his readers to move forward and get things right.
And all you have to do to get there is ignore a few choice words and visit the comments on your pieces a couple times. It’s really not so bad.