There have been many wise and learned discussions about the impact the internet has had on journalism. However, one area that has been neglected is the impact it has had on the egos of journalists. I don’t mean the bruised feelings that Matt Drudge’s success has caused among the higher echelons of the American intelligentsia. I mean the terrible wounds inflicted on people like me by the ‘comments’ that appear beneath our articles.
‘What a load of self-interested tripe,’ wrote one reader underneath a diary column I wrote in the Daily Telegraph last week. Another expressed himself even more succinctly: ‘Bryony Gordon is away.’ As an experienced journalist, you tell yourself that these are exactly the same people who used to fire off anonymous missives in green ink with lots of CAPITAL LETTERS, but it doesn’t do much to restore your sense of self-esteem. Even Kingsley Amis’s rule — a bad review can ruin your breakfast, but you shouldn’t let it spoil your lunch — doesn’t apply. Every time you return to the relevant page on the paper’s website, there’s a new outpouring of vitriol.
All newspapers that invite ‘comments’ attract these sorts of remarks, but by far the most spiteful are from readers of the Guardian. If you thought that Guardian readers were gentle, woolly-jumper-wearing types, think again. Judging from their ‘comments’, they are a barbarian horde of Orc-like savages, intent on crushing the skulls of anyone who dares to set foot in the media spotlight.
‘Thanks for verifying a lot of what I’ve secretly long suspected about journalists,’ wrote one reader beneath a recent piece of mine: ‘that they’re a bunch of self-regarding, self-pitying word-abusers.’
‘To complain about this self-promoting hack is to miss the point,’ wrote another, after some 60 people had submitted ‘comments’ along these lines.