Whenever I read a care­fully crafted breaking news piece or an art­fully arranged feature story online, I try to stop my eyes from drifting downward into the depths of the ple­beian com­men­tators. Prac­ti­cally any­thing can be written under­neath an article to which a reporter has spent hours ded­i­cating time and effort. Most com­ments attack rather than discuss an issue in a poignant or intel­ligent way. Debates ensue that detract attention and depre­ciate the value from the article overall.

Imagine a glo­rious, sunny summer afternoon. A picnic is spread on a blanket in the grass, skill­fully created courses adorn the surface, and each dish enhances the next. It is the perfect setting for a culinary mas­ter­piece — a setting for con­tem­plation and enjoyment. An ant appears on the picnic blanket. It forages for the perfect crumb upon which it can steal and gorge itself. Soon, more ants reach the picnic. The bounty of food creates a frenzy, and a battle emerges amongst the food. The meal is no longer enjoyable or dis­cernible, covered in a black, crawling mass. All that is left are the ants, strug­gling amongst them­selves to escape with the best crumb.

Public com­mentary affects great jour­nalism in this way. People grab onto con­ve­nient bits infor­mation to fit the argument they wish to present. As more people join the debate, the beauty of the well-written word becomes muddled.

News­papers and mag­a­zines have con­sidered whether or not to allow public com­ments on web­sites. Allowing readers to leave their opinions occa­sionally increases interest in the story, and some­times a comment gives a new per­spective or reveals new infor­mation the reporter may not have known. In order to weed out inap­pro­priate or offensive material, however, web editors have come up with a com­promise: assign one or more of the staff to filter all sub­mis­sions. The result still does not seem much better than not having a filter at all.

When Chardon High School suf­fered a vicious school shooting a month ago, news­papers all over the country covered the devel­oping horrors. The Denver Post posted a piece on the shooting and student deaths, under which 127 com­ments were attached. Starting with the second comment, a battle over gun rights ensued. The debate draws the reader away from the important issue, the only topic worth caring about in regards to that par­ticular article — three stu­dents died in a brutal slaying at the hands of another student. Ignoring the deaths of three children to debate political topics lacks pro­priety and any shred of humanity.

Writers earn their livelihood by cre­ating pow­erful pieces of prose, and public com­mentary mars their work. More than that, people seem to lose the ability to intel­li­gently present an argument and often lose their manners and sen­si­tivity. If the urge to smear your opinions over the Internet is too strong, start a blog instead.