"Letters-to-the-Blogger": My New Approach to Comments

By David Shenk

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Beginning today, I'm trying a new experiment with the Comments section of this blog. I'm going to screen all submitted comments and allow in all that are polite and respectful. Criticism will be welcome, and even embraced. Arrogant dismissiveness will not be. Challenge my facts or my interpretation of the facts. Offer your own point of view. But don't be rude about it.

Yes, screening is inherently elitist. But so are publications, print or otherwise. The old letters-to-the-editor model of newspapers and magazines worked pretty well. It may have been necessary because of the limited space--obviously not an issue here--but it worked because it required letter-writers to adhere to basic minimum standards of decorum. 

I don't think online writers and editors should have to make a choice between allowing no comments at all (which some at TheAtlantic.com choose, perhaps wisely) and allowing a no-holds-barred section dominated by the lowest common denominator of rudeness and arrogance. I'm hoping there's a middle ground which embraces the idea that all should be given a chance to be heard if they take the responsibility of treating others with respect.

I pledge to you that I will allow in ALL polite criticism. If you choose not to trust me to make that call and would rather not read my stuff at all, I'll have to live with that. I'll continue to try to earn your trust by showing respect for dissent. Critics are welcome, blowhards are not. 

My aim is to try to foster a Comments section where more people feel comfortable in jumping in: a civil space where ideas and arguments are respected. 

This approach is also consistent with the message of the blog and my forthcoming book. We should hold each other to high standards. You should hold me to a high standard of writing, analysis, research, and accuracy. And I should expect you to read carefully and respond with some care. Let's see if it's too much to insist on a little modicum of civility. 

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2009/10/-letters-to-the-blogger-my-new-approach-to-comments/28121/