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Seattle sports writer won’t miss inane, nasty reader comments

Steve Kelley wrote his final sports column for The Seattle Times, reflecting on his career highlights and the low lights of negative comments on almost any story posted online. "For the life of me, I don't know why we run comments at bottoms of people's stories," Kelley says. (Linda Thomas photo)

Anyone who writes for a general audience online gets public comments on their stories ranging from inane to idiotic, with occasional insight and intelligence. Usually referred to as trolls, Steve Kelley won’t miss them one bit.

In his final column Sunday, The Seattle Times sports writer reflected on 30 years of friends, acts of kindness.

“As much as I’ve loved covering the games, what I’ll remember most from my 30-plus years in Seattle sports will be the associations and enduring friendships, the silly gives and takes and the great off-the-field, away-from-the-camera acts of kindness I’ve been fortunate to witness,” Kelley wrote.

As much as he loved writing about sports, he also grew tired of the reader comments on many of his columns. He described it in an interview on KIRO’s Luke Burbank Show as a free-for-all where the level of discourse has become inane and nasty.

“Whatever you’ve achieved in a story gets drowned out by this chorus of idiots,” says Kelley.

On Burbank’s show Friday, Kelley talked about one of his favorite columns was about his wife’s courageous battle with a brain tumor in 1991.

“I got negative feedback,” Kelley says. “People writing that, ‘We don’t want to know about your boring personal life.”

That column published in 1991 would have been before websites made it easier for people to comment on stories online. It just takes a few clicks for people to show their ugly sides instantly through anonymous posts on stories.

Burbank says the comments show the “darkest part of the human soul.”

“For the life of me, I don’t know why we run comments at bottoms of people’s stories,” Kelley says.

Media organizations have tried many ways to get around online comments that attack the writer or the subject of a story.

Some have turned off comments entirely; others only allow posts through Facebook which is less anonymous. Generally “trolls” lose all their power when they have to show their real identity.

People who write anonymous, hurtful comments get satisfaction from knowing they’ve had some impact on others – perhaps the only measurable impact they’ll have that day.

Although I deal with constructive/destructive comments every day, I never refer to my readers as “trolls” publicly or privately.

I’m grateful for people who click on this blog to read my stories. Do I cringe when I see personal attacks? Yes. But I support their free speech, as much as I believe in my own.

The tide of negative comments has a way of being washed over by some insightful, interesting, and challenging views. I see that all the time in conversations between blog readers here.

Sometimes the hateful statements aren’t swept out to sea, and they can be exhausting to read. I question whether it’s worth it too.

Kelley wants to know why people are so insulting online, considering most would never say the hurtful things they post online to someone’s face or even as a phone message.

You’re the experts on commenting. Do you have an answer for him?


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