A few weeks ago, I was reading an interesting story about the state of the Columbia Journalism School that appeared on the New York Magazine website. In short, the story tried to examine concerns about how well Columbia was making the transition to the digital journalism era.

After reading the story, I dutifully tweeted a link to it to those following me through my Next Newsroom account:

Columbia J-School struggles to adapt to the digital age: http://is.gd/mY0s “F—- new media,” says one prof.

A short time later, I received this reply from ajsundby:

nextnewsroom That nymag post has many reporting holes in it. If you bothered to look at the comments, you’d know that. You’ve had a week.

That phrase gnawed at me for quite awhile: “bothered to look at the comments.” I believe that at the time I tweeted the link, there were several dozen comments. When I checked today, it was up to 71.

But am I really obliged to read the comments? Says who?

Of course not. The story was long enough on its own. And I didn’t feel compelled to wade through the ensuing conversation.

But clearly a conversation had emerged around it, challenging some of the facts and assumptions. And in that case, if I didn’t read the comments, did I in fact actually read the story? Is the “story” now the original article plus the comments? And if I didn’t consume the whole enchilada, should I refrain from recommending it, tweeting it, posting it on Facebook?

No Hard and Fast Rules

I don’t think there can be any hard and fast rules on this. But since commenting on articles continues to cause such heated discussions, I have a few thoughts on this from the perspective of a reader.

First, I just don’t want the pressure of feeling like I’m required to read all the comments. It’s just not realistic. I don’t have the time, except in the rare cases when I’m feeling particularly passionate about a topic and I want to really dive in.

Second, I recognize that comments are important. But if you really want to overcome my reluctance to engage, then consider this yet another in a long line of pleas to improve commenting systems. Ideally, reporters or someone at the news organization would identify the best comments and highlight them by incorporating them into updates to the original article.

In the case of the New York Magazine article, at some point someone added an editor’s note acknowledging some of the feedback in the comments. (Though I wouldn’t have seen the note if I hadn’t gone back to re-read the story to write this post.)

I’m sympathetic that this might not always be possible given time and resources. So, third, embrace a commenting system that allows readers to help rate and boost the best, most insightful dialogue. The folks at SFGate.com have a pretty good system. Not perfect, but helpful when there are hundreds of comments on a story. I can click on the “recommended” tab and get the ones that garnered the most votes.

You might do all this. And I still might ignore the comments. And when I do, I’m going to try not to feel guilty.