On Reaching Highlight

All the news that's fit to print

If you ever read the New York Times online, you know that most articles allow for readers’ comments, which often number in the hundreds. At some point, the Times closes the board, but until then you can scroll through comments short and long, well-informed or not, angry or laugh-out-loud funny, from readers with agendas or those who are simply perplexed.

“Highlighted comments”, usually not more than ten, are those the Times considers, in its words, “a selection of the most interesting and thoughtful comments that represent a range of views”.

Reader, yesterday I reached Highlight!

It’s a small thing, a blip in the world of words. Hardly anyone, even a Times fan, will notice.

But it’s a vote for clear and persuasive writing. I’ll take it.

I’ve commented on Times articles for quite a while, though not often. Some articles seem to cry out for comment, others are barely noticed by the mass of Times readers. There are comments indicating the writer’s never posted before, and others where the writer is so well-known to the rest of the pack that they send greetings – or derisory howls. Anyone who posts all in uppercase is immediately chastised: they’re screaming. Those writers who pretend to knowledge or experience they clearly don’t have are challenged.

It’s a fairly liberal rag, the Times, and many of its readers regard themselves as politically left of center. But some (“know the enemy”) write conservative comments, in part, I imagine, to draw heat. It’s like bear-baiting. Eventually, someone lashes out.

They’re not all New Yorkers, either, or even within commuting distance of the Big Apple. Comments flow in from all over the world, particularly when it comes to foreign policy or international events. Right now the biggest story is about the earthquakes and subsequent tsunamis that have devastated Japan, and comments from readers there have hit those boards, including a message from a man who’s wearing his ski helmet on purpose, just in case the walls – even in earthquake-prepared Japan – begin again to shake.

Readers’ comments enliven the online Times in a way that the paper version unfortunately can never reach. And a highlighted comment? Like a tiny star, a minuscule publisher’s “yes”.


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