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Why everyone should be ashamed of the infamous comment thread

If you haven’t yet read the comment thread on a recent entry by Tampa Tribune intern Jessica DaSilva, go do it now. There’s no better example of the emotionally charged internal battle that the newspaper industry is facing. Seeing as I already expressed admiration for DaSilva’s blogging way before she suddenly became a celebrity, I’d certainly jump to DaSilva’s defense. She not only had the right to say what she did, she ought to be commended for being passionate enough to say it. We need passionate reformers more than anything. But the comment thread is disheartening in more ways than I can count. Most obviously, those who didn’t like the entry went way overboard with the villainization, and I can only hope Jessica has learned that idiotic statements don’t mean a thing when you’re standing on solid ground. Yet I find myself equally disturbed by the reaction on what you could call “my side,” the reformers seeking the best future for journalism. It was a blanket, unthinking defense of one of our own, no one seeming to acknowledge the blatantly obvious fact that the post was very much insensitive to those who lost their jobs. I haven’t heard a direct argument yet as to why those people’s feelings aren’t worthy of attention, or why it couldn’t have been made clearer that she understood the gravity of those losses. That part was missing from an otherwise fantastic post, and I can understand why its absence led to the reaction it got. As it turns out, “my side” is every bit as guilty of bunkering itself off as the other side. We use labels like “curmudgeons” and “reactionaries” while not doing much to respectfully engage their arguments. Any time those kind of labels come into play, it’s a pretty clear signal to me that not much discussion is going to happen with the people who need to participate the most. Jessica’s post was outstanding yet imperfect, which is no great offense since most everything is imperfect. I hope she’s holding her head as high as she deserves, because the point she was trying to make about the need for a plan was a good one. The far greater problem is the distance between the people who read her post, and how few people are working to peacefully bridge the gap. And that includes “my side” with all of its counterproductive name-calling. John Zhu had a great comment on an entry by Hilary Lehman:

The comments on Jessica’s blog show a definite split along age lines, with veterans mostly taking issue with her fawning over an editor who just laid off people and younger journalists mostly dismissing those criticisms as coming from dinosaurs despite not knowing any of the people who offered those criticisms. What’s more disturbing is that despite having almost 100 comments as of now, there is almost no substantive discussion of the actual criticisms. Instead of the two sides reaching across the battle line to discuss their viewpoints, they are pretty much just deepening the line in the sand, bunkering down in their respective corners, and trading verbal barbs. From that perspective, it seems that the “dinosaurs” and the “naive kids” are more alike than either would admit.

Unfortunately, that’s preceded by more ageism as someone else makes wild generalizations about twenty-somethings. Let’s not make age another battleground that we really don’t need.

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