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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.Email this Post