Housekeeping comments

[updated]

Indulge me a moment in some housekeeping with respect to comments to blog posts here and the recent meta-commentary on this topic.

The question at core involves the degree to which I should manage readers’ comments to blog posts here to keep the conversation on point.

To those of you writing both publicly and privately to express your concern about what some readers see as the trend toward comments that, at best, drift off topic, and at worst hijack the conversation with what George Constanza called bawdy tawk, I hear you. I really do. And I’m not unsympathetic to the critique in some ways.

At the same time, I’m also reluctant at this late date in the life of the site to start unilaterally intervening more aggressively in comments threads, given how central this free and open space has been to the community that’s built up around averyfineline.

To be honest, I’m hardpressed, as I’ve written to several of you lately in personal emails, to see how such aggressively unilateral monitorial efforts on my part to shape or limit the conversation wouldn’t risk violating and vitiating the commitment I’ve made all these years to a wide open discussion.

Back in the day, those of you who were around will recall that I didn’t shut down the hard core joyful-noisers when they were the dominant voice(s) here. On what ethical or moral or intellectual grounds do I suddenly change the rules because the balance of rhetorical power has shifted over time? To some extent, I’m actually asking (and have asked several of you; thanks for your thoughtful replies).

Several you make the point – either explicitly or implicitly – that by letting the commenters fill the space that used to be occupied by more regular posts on the site, I’ve created the problem and could remedy it by either posting more frequently or shutting the site down. I’m not sure it’s as singularly my “fault” as all that, but no matter. It’s my site and my responsibility at a certain level.

And since a return to the hyper-frequent posts of the blog’s early years simply isn’t possible for me at this point in my life, and since I’m not ready to turn out the lights here just yet, I’m going to propose a third approach.

But let me say this first: the reality is, perhaps not shockingly, that my own relationship to the site has changed subtly but not insignificantly over time, as have the attitudes and demographics of my readership. I’ve always assumed both dynamics were inevitable.

I recall back in the early days when the hardcore purists dominated the discussions, calling for my head and damning me to perdition for criticizing God’s sweet singing servants, I’d get all sorts of emails from folks asking why I put up with this guff and couldn’t I muzzle those loudmouths who were sucking all the oxygen out of the room.

I said then what I believe now: that it’s not really about me as much as it is allowing the range of perspectives to intersect and interact. Southern gospel simply isn’t culturally accustomed to open, flowing, free-wheeling public conversations about the music and its culture, so the site has been allowed to encompass a much wider range of reader commentary than might have been necessary or valuable on a blog devoted to some other issue or some different part of the world.

It is mildly bemusing to see the changes over time in the dominant voices in the comments, but I still believe in the value of keeping my hands off the comments section. That said, we’re obviously not in the same place culturally or conversationally as a community of gospel music fans and professionals and hangers-on that we were lo these nearly eight years ago since the site was launched. It only makes sense that my own perspective on and approach to things might need to evolve with the site.

And/so/thus, here is what I propose:

  1. I commit to you to be less reticent in the name of open exchange to letting topical posts drift way off target. I also commit to working more intentionally to balance my commitment to open conversation with respect for the reasonable readerly expectation that open thread discussions focus on music and culture in some meaningful way. I will construe “music and culture” generously, as the mood strikes and the spirit move. But in any case, this may mean your comment gets deleted based on my judgment call (in which case I’ll continue my regular practice of trying to do my best to let you know via email the thought process behind this decision, assuming the comment isn’t just completely bogus or blatant trollerizing), or it may mean I email you with an encouragement to reconsider or recalibrate the comment. Obviously if you provide a bogus email, you’ll just see your comment disappear without explanation.
  2. If you don’t want to risk having your post deleted or sequestered for reconsideration, work hard(er) to stay on topic and exercise a little (more) self-discipline and personal judgment about the need for or the effectiveness of off-topic rabbit-chasing, high-weeds excursions into personal issues or score-settling, gratuitous bomb throwing, or general comment trollery. IOW: Stop it. This applies to all offenders among the sheep, goats, wheat, chaff, right, left, slave, free, male, female, grandma, grandpa, and even Aunt Blabby. All y’all.
  3. Finally, I’ve got some ideas in mind for how to reinvigorate my own modes of engagement with the music online and y’all as a community. You’ve been extraordinarily loyal to the site over the years (even though traffic levels out when my posting has to level off, there is a committed core readership of 4,000-6,000 unique visitors who return daily to the site, and even on slow weeks or months, the site still attracts on average 10K hits a day and between 6K-8K page requests daily … it’s not a Guinness record but it’s still pretty gobsmacking to me). And with the book coming out and the site likely to become a place where some public discussion of the response to the book makes sense, I’m going to approach this summer as a chance to creatively reconnect whenever possible.

In some ways, I guess I’m proposing that we - you as readers, me as blogger and circus leader/asylum superintendent - recalibrate our approach to things so that the fundamentally free and open space of conversation remains, but becomes a little more ordered and orderly for the long-term sustainability of the enterprise for as many people as possible.

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Comments

  1. quartet-man wrote:

    I don’t know if “blame” is the proper word. Granted as I described Blogs are different than message boards in that we can’t really start topics here unless on an open thread and those do kind of get messy with so many topics all in the same place, but that is the nature of the best in regards to how blogs are set up and their purpose.

    Granted, you have the power to delete comments, but really part of the responsibility is on us to monitor ourselves. Just because you have allowed it doesn’t mean we aren’t to blame for doing it. My point was to debate the idea that we could start topics. That isn’t so much our role although at times interesting topics have popped up because of something someone brought up or how a discussion took a different direction (though often at least related to the initial one).
    .
    I know I will see something at times and be inspired to make a joke. I have seen others do this too and gotten a gas out of it as well. Hopefully it won’t be so rigid here that we can’t do that as long as the topic doesn’t totally get derailed for many posts. However, I realize that there is no perfect answer and whatever one you choose will affect someone and not please someone. I also understand that there is a fine line in how free forums should be versus a free for all and how how protected they should be versus the real rigid ones. There will be no perfect answer for everyone.

    Either way, I hope you don’t totally shut this down. There are too many topics in the past that are nice to revisit. Both ones I remember and want to check something on, or something I discover while searching Google for something else. Unfortunately I have never read all of them here. Reading your thoughts on the Cathedrals and different things are great to read again especially if the memory of the specifics have changed.
    If you feel the need to close off comments or not start any new ones, please at least keep it up to use for reference or for historical and purposes.

  2. CVH wrote:

    I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the site since I first came across it in 2004 or 2005. Sure there’s been some ‘drift’ from time to time but usually it’s not hurtful or troublesome. It seems to have grown in frequency more recently but I don’t personally find it annoying. I accept it as part of the site’s DNA; a microcosm of the public square. This isn’t Sunday school; and given the wide range of topics and contributors, I’ve always appreciated our esteemed host’s mostly ‘hands off’ approach. I think this is by far the most interesting, insightful site related to the field of southern gospel music on the web.

    As I said, this isn’t Sunday school but in some ways I do liken it to a classroom. Those of us in the class move up a grade each year; well, most do. New ’students’ come and go; some are quiet and don’t verbalize their thoughts; some are extremely optionated and try to shout the others down. There are the cryptic ones whose comments make you think; the class clown, the class troublemaker, the teacher’s pet and the class deputy sheriff who’s always standing up, pointing accusingly and saying, “Mr. Harrison, Wade cut one!” (Sorry, Wadey, that was for illustrative purposes only).

    I suppose once every eight years it doesn’t hurt to give the ‘do you kids live in a barn?’ speech. If your traffic is consistent and/or growing, and you don’t have advertisers to worry about, I think you’re doing things right. If you were to micromanage the comments, where would it end? One of the strengths of this site is that it’s real; commenters are free to say what they think. And because the content is not restricted to record reviews and gushing, glorified concert press releases, readers can address a wide range of entertainment, social, cultural and religious issues. It’s informative, humorous and thought-provoking.

    Erring on the side of free speech may bring with it an occasional run of juvenile, vulgar comments but it also encourages the widest expression of thought. That ‘fresh air’ is what the SG community needs.

  3. quartet-man wrote:

    “Mr. Harrison, Wade cut one!” (Sorry, Wadey, that was for illustrative purposes only).

    LOL. See that, Wade? You have made an impression. ;)

  4. cynical one wrote:

    CVH — I think Wade really did.

  5. Wade wrote:

    Amen to what CVH said!!!

    Am honored to be the class crown, bomb thrower caller of BS or cutting one in the class room guy!!! Especially HERE with so many good hearted people and so many brain numbed one too but we all love SGM!!!

    Dr. DH if brain numbed is too strong just edit that part.

    Yes this is Dr. DH’s blog and he can do whatever he wants I totally respect that after calling out for gossip, getting it and then not wanting to hurt ppl I know by rolling it out, even though most of it was true!!!

    Would try to put names with some of those tags CVH put up there but it would probably be MODERATED. I’m even prouder to be the person who can be blasted and then be the chosen one to be moderated when I blasted back.

    ONE SUGGESTION — if some one post something the moderator deems to be off topic then throw it in to the latest OPEN THREAD going and see where it goes. That has already been done and seemed to work well!!! Then all the parents or sensitive ppl could avoid the open thread!!! ;-) :-)

    Happy TGIF ALL!!! Even j-mo & brooke!!! Hope that TGIF didn’t offend any one!!

  6. BackwoodsPhilosopher wrote:

    This is what I have found fascinating:

    I would be considered a Christian Conservative in my value system. (To some, I may be considered a Fundamentalist…..or Fundie? Thanks to Wade….LOL)

    However, this is what I find very interesting when it comes to very Conservative blogs, message boards or comment sections. It seems that the Conservative Folks (Republican or staunch Baptist or staunch Pentecostal or staunch SGM fan….or…..well, you get the point)….it seems that the folks who rally around God, country, truth, grandma, the flag and apple pie….it seems that they don’t actually appreciate the TRUTH in many cases.

    If you ever point out anything of question to a Conservative about one of their “chosen idols”, such as George Bush, Jr., Sarah Palin or a questionable SG singer, then all “you-know-what” breaks loose.

    Even with my Conservative opinions, I have been able to voice my opinions in an open atmosphere, knowing that someone could “Amen Me” or “Blast Me” at any given minute. LOL

    Why is it that a more Liberal Blog owner will allow free and open conversation, but the Conservatives and the so-called righteous folks won’t consider ANY OPINION that disagrees with their viewpoint? ……NOR will they listen to it. (even if it’s the proven truth)

    I appreciate Doug’s willingness to let folks with different viewpoints to voice their opinions, views or values.

  7. Judi wrote:

    On some other blogs I read, for example Unclutterer and Mudflats, the blogger sometimes will comment to amplify a point or add more information, or ask a question. This can be done deftly and may even create more of a sense of community. There is a fine line (reminds me of a blog name..) between engaging readers in comments and browbeating them but after 8 years at this Avery, you probably know where that line is. Looking forward to reading more of these conversations as The Book becomes more widely read.

  8. CVH wrote:

    #6 BP - a few thoughts on your question. Many conservative media types are about controlling the message. And they’re not about having an open dialogue. There’s no need for discussion when you know you’re right.

    On the other hand, many non-conservative bloggers welcome the free exchange of ideas and encourage dialogue. My experience through the years is that conservatives have much to fear. They fear losing control; they fear modernism; and they seem to truly believe that ignoring the changes happening in culture, the economy, religion and media will make them go away.

    Conservatives are like liberals in the sense that they both believe in ideals that no longer exist. Whether it’s a romanticized look back at the good old Cold War days or the starry-eyed optimism of the Kennedy era, the world has moved far beyond those simplistic world views and, like it or not, demands much more of us. If you believe what you believe is true, that becomes your truth. It could be dogma, opinion or rhetoric; if you repeat it often enough it becomes your truth.

    A “liberal blog owner” is more likely to entertain the conversation because he or she is willing to be wrong. Because some things in life are not black and white-they’re shades of grey. Because being ‘right’ all the time is boring. And because they have much less to fear.

  9. RF wrote:

    Lots of good comments here. The old “you’re either for us or against us ” argument applies here. The conservatives are not open to discussion. They are right and anyone who disagrees are wrong. Such is our country. In the meantime, our love sg is dying as we argue over all of this. It’s time to put politics aside and enjoy the music while we still have it. And Doug, you are doing it right and I thank you for honest, straight opinions on our genre. That doesn’t exist anywhere else.

  10. irishlad wrote:

    Well “born-again” Christians HAVE to be right don’t they? That’s what their entire faith,hope and truth is based on..no room for any doubt,no grey areas at all..that’s why they’re on the defensive so much,they’ve so much to prove.After all their eternal security hinges on it…big thing that!..Personally they could be right but i could never find enough faith to talk like that. Sad but true.

  11. CVH wrote:

    irishlad - very well said. Not sad. Honest.

  12. Auke wrote:

    Is it me or are most blogs about the bloggers these days? What ever happened to ‘ i boast not of works’.??

  13. ode wrote:

    12- it’s you, Auke ;)

  14. ode wrote:

    “”"”Bawdy talk”"”"

    :D :D heeeeee… Sure,when Jesus drunk wine with prostitutes and other social outcasts they were discussing Torah and rabbinical philosophy.Toughen up, people. I am slightly ashamed to be enjoying music of so often godless culture of SGM, so what? We all have to give a little to coexist peacefully.

  15. ode wrote:

    Great point , Judi, on “sense of community”-yes, its expected from AFL . I see all my xtian family like I do my own brothers and a sister - to joke with, goof around, get personal, kick each other’s ass, fight, have a good time, so it’s not a cold, individualistic, dry talk. I try to create the feeling of brotherhood even on business meetings, conference calls aka funerals, real funerals, transatlantic flights, technical training classes, and I’ll be serious on an blog about entertainment?! No way. I’m openly christian- I want the world to know and let it show. Sure, even the saint of tolerance Doug has to delete some of our babblings at times, but it has to be totally free.

    Love of brethren is a priceless part of life. Being joyful despite all is what brings to life Paul’s “If in this life only we have hope in Messiah, we are of all men most miserable” We have a short time here on earth,so before our“ vapor is gone”….

  16. quartet-man wrote:

    Okay, as far as things of God, it IS black and white. However, people interpret things differently, that is at least one of the reasons why there are so many denominations. Each of us needs to read the Word, truly study and look for what it really says instead of what we think it says or were taught it says. We need to pray and ask God for wisdom and to give us eyes to see it His way even if it makes us uncomfortable. I don’t see things always the way I was brought up. Undoubtedly when people have contrary ideas on what is meant, SOMEONE is wrong. You can’t have it both ways. However, we are responsible for ourselves and given the freedom to decide and then will deal with the consequences one way or another.

    I do believe we are to tell others and if they choose to ignore what you are saying or disagree with how you see it, you did your part and it is on them. You brush the dust off of your feet and move on. I don’t say this in a vain way, I just believe that is scriptural. I won’t say that the way I see it is definitely 100% right even if I strive for that. I believe it is right, but I sure can’t force others to believe it even if I wanted. Then there are other things I myself am unsure of (for instance when the rapture takes place). I have heard arguments on both sides, but I just don’t know.

    As far as conservatives not wanting open communication, there are times I am sure that is correct. On some matters they are so sure of themselves they don’t even want to discuss it and get into a heated argument. For instance if someone tried to debate me on whether I was a man or not, it would sort of be a waste of my time after a while. ;) Other times I do think some can’t defend their beliefs while other times they just don’t want to get into it.

    Nonetheless, in my experience, the liberals (although they claim to be the open-minded, freedom of speech people) are the ones who can’t debate. Even if they do, if they get cornered they pull out the “homophobic” word (which is a misnomer) because a phobia is an irrational fear and although there are some, I think the majority of the people against it either think it is morally wrong or just think it is unnatural. I don’t think most have an irrational fear of them although I am sure some fear the results of allowing gay marriage in that what could result due to it. That is still not a phobia as I personally know of some who tried to intentionally stir things up in churches they knew were against it by trying to force them to allow them to be on committees, get married there etc. Now, I don’t believe the average ones are like this at all, but there are several who want to institute change and total acceptance to the point where they don’t even want anyone to voice an opinion against it. But, I digress.

    Another common tactic I have seen by them is the “racist” card. Once again they cannot defend their positions, so they resort to name-calling and labeling to make the other person look evil since they cannot debate with them. There are undoubtedly some racists still around today, but I think we have had a few generations that have changed that in most people. Yet, you point out anything bad about Obama or any black person, you are almost sure going to be called that. I guess they were racist against middle-aged white, rich people since they gave Bush such a hard time. ;) Face it, people have disagreed politically for years. Why is this any different? It’s as if they can’t see any possibility of Obama doing something wrong or at least someone disagreeing with him. As long as the person’s reason for being against him is because of his race, then it is not racism.

    Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely some conservatives who will not discuss things. They are either so sure that they don’t even want to talk about it, or they are unable to defend their beliefs. Nonetheless, my experience has been that there aren’t anywhere near as many of those as on the liberal side.

    I say bring it on. My positions on things at times have been strengthened by someone debating or bringing up points I had not considered. That caused me to think about things and wonder why I believe that and to see that even though their argument didn’t hold water, my refuting it gave another dimension on things and to see that my beliefs held up.

    In my younger days I never thought much about why I believed certain things, nor even thought about politics, certain things to do with religion etc. I just accepted. However, a late night radical Christian talk show host caused me to really question some things and I have never gone back.

    Well, I had better get going and get this Backwoods Philosopher long post disease seen about. ;) To be fair, I had some long posts long before she was around. :D

  17. quartet-man wrote:

    * I should have said I don’t always see things the way I was brought up. I have different beliefs on some things than my parents. I still believe the same on the big things, but we differ on some of the others.

  18. irishlad wrote:

    16 It boils down to this,anyone who says on matters of faith, they know beyond a shadow of a doubt, don’t really “know” in the true sense of the word,they only think they know.It’s a belief,a trust,it can never wholly be proven in this life.That’s the reason some evangelical preachers say “well if i’m right i’m going to Heaven and if you’re right(an unbeliever) i won’t know anything about it”. Pretty slick answer in anyone’s book. I’m not trying to stir up a theological debate here,but if you look at things logically what other answer could you come up with?,but alas matters of faith have little to do with logic and that for me is a big stumbling block.

  19. irishlad wrote:

    …oh yes,and before anyone starts quoting “lean not onto your own understanding”,forget it..i’ve had stuff like that rammed down my throat all my life.It didn’t wear then and it won’t now.Sorry if i have offended anyone by sounding arrogant,that’s just my belief….still love Sg though.

  20. Wade wrote:

    Irish Dude we know you are arrogant!! lol it is OK!!!

    But yes what Q-Man said was correct… libtards can be VERY mean too… I think it is ppl on BOTH Extreme Sides are so far out they fear of being proven wrong and then where would that leave their investment in being RIGHT or LEFT!!

    That’s why you need OPEN MINDED Moderates that have friends and love ppl on both sides here LIKE ME!!! ;-)))

    But a good example for ppl here ( Lord knows I love DR. DH) are I have dropped a couple of political things here bashing prez obozo that were moderated off by Dr. DH, but if I had said similar things about gay haters or GW Bush I bet it might have made it through… so we ALL are sensitive to our SIDES especially when they are extreme either way!!!

    PEACE!!!

  21. Alan wrote:

    Q-Man: Your post (#16) was pretty magnificent. Thank you. I agree that certain folks on the extreme-opposite sides of things can be very rigid and unyielding; the Bible and politics are two easy subjects that come to mind quickly.

    What I’d encourage any on here to do is to go out on sites like Yahoo News or USA Today when there’s an article whose headline is such that you just KNOW that it will garner lots of opposing comments. It’s eye-opening. After reading the article, then read the last 100 comments or so. I find that almost without fail, the liberals will post the most vicious, hateful, incendiary comments, and engage in far more name- calling than more conservative folks will. The worst part is that neither side will ever gain followers from the opposing side, let alone get them to even listen to their viewpoint. It’s all just foolish anger. And as such, it’s just counterproductive….

  22. irishlad wrote:

    ok just to prove i’m m.o.r ..i agree w/both wade and alan….great guys,really soothing :)

  23. irishlad wrote:

    21 Alan , get a grip. After a post that long?. Imagine being stuck in a cell with him all night..you’d throw the rope up.

  24. Wade wrote:

    Throw the Rope up!!! Ha Ha!!

  25. yankeegospelgirl wrote:

    #16 Which talk show host was that? I’m curious. :)

  26. Wade wrote:

    Think the teacher is trying to keep us busy with lotsa work lately!!! ;-)) For all the complainers out there ALL those threads are FOR YOU!!! Now get busy commenting and stop complaining.

  27. ode wrote:

    22- heee…….. :D ,ilad

    20- Well said, Wadey, but we “repubicans” (as my fav. conservative talkshow host Mark Levin calls it) have nothing to brag about. I can’t vote, but as a fellow repubic, will gladly share the blame, jews are pros at scapegoat. Obummer economic policies are bad, but the next 4 years we’ll be praying for him, for sure.

    All media, cons. and lib,and Fox, by now admits that a cand ought to be pretty socially liberal/fiscally conservative to win the majority of voters today. GOP screwed up, found none such to bring up, just a clowncar full of silly boobs.

    Remember that elderly gent who enters a brothel and tells he’d like a young blond for the night, so surprised madam asks the ancient man how old he is. 90, he replies.”Sir, don’t you realize you’ve had it?” “Oh,sorry, how much I owe you?”. We ARE in his shoes, definitely. We have had it, got nothing out of it, and it’s time to pay

  28. irishlad wrote:

    you’re just after me for my mind Ode. ;)

  29. Wade wrote:

    ode…blondes are over rated but I understand the story!!!

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