Opinions, Context & Ideas from the TPM Editors TPM Editor's Blog
From the first days I was writing TPM I discovered the amazing power of the reader emails. As much as anything else, this was the transformative power of the whole enterprise. I had and would continue to write for major national publications with large audiences and the response from readers? Maybe a letter or two, a couple emails. Usually nothing. But even with TPM's minuscule audience I was getting email responses to almost every post. And they were valuable. Part of this was, I think, because of the deliberatively informal style of writing I adopted for the site (really the natural style of writing I'd always needed to suppress for conventional publications) and the fact that I responded.
In the last few years, many people have found that they get most of their information from their feeds on Twitter or Facebook, a kind of social filtering service notifying them about must read articles or breaking news. For that started fifteen years ago, long before the emergence of anything like what we now call social media. If a key article dropped somewhere, a reader would tell me about it. And not just in the Post or the Times but in small town papers in Montana and Oklahoma and basically everywhere else. I also got news tips, and more often expert context on stories I had little familiarity with. Other times emails were and are simply commentary and ideas from readers I have in some cases been corresponding with for years. As some of you know, TPM's Managing Editor and DC Bureau Chief David Kurtz was originally a reader from Missouri who I corresponded with about various news stories, often benefitting from his lawyer background to understand various criminal investigations.
As the site grew, the resource grew because there were orders of magnitude more readers and emailers, as the years went by. Eventually people noticed that I sometimes used this resource to 'crowdsource', as the emerging phrase had it, various stories that I lacked the reporting resources to cover and my tools (an active and engaged readership) gave me more ability to cover than someone of the biggest news organizations in the world.
But these instances were always outliers and exceptions to the day in and day out way "talk" reader emails were at the core of the editorial process of the site. ("talk" for "talk" at "talkingpointsmemo.com"). By sometime in 2003, with some help from an outside tech, we migrated the site to Movable Type. And from then on, comments would have been as easy to check as a check box. In 2005 we launched the original TPMCafe, then a discussion site, somewhat on the model of Daily Kos. And then in 2006, we launched TPMMuckraker.
I don't remember the exact reasoning at the time. But it seemed natural on a new news site that we would have comments. So we did. By 2006, comments were much more fundamental to the web than they had been six years earlier. And at launch, TPMCafe and Muckraker were separate sites, with their own URLS.
Over the course of the last decade I often get asked why there are no comments on the Editor's Blog. And the answer is simple: reader emails are basic and fundamental to how I run the site and why I enjoy running the site. It's where I get a huge amount of my information and I've had this resource for fifteen years. I've never allowed comments because I have assumed that it would divert some significant number of the emails to comments. And whether it's a little or a lot, I don't want to lose any of them.
As comments became more and more ubiquitous on the web, I got an increasing number of people questioning my motives for not "opening comments" on the Editors' Blog. For some, it was an entitlement of web readership, a failure to fulfill my part in the unstated bargain of web publishing. To this I'm perfectly comfortable saying that TPM basically predates comments - Blogspot, Blogger.com, WordPress, Tumblr and all the rest. So this doesn't apply to me. Others think it's because I don't like to be criticized. So I don't want to provide a venue for people to disagree with what I write. To all this and more, the answer is simply, no, that's not it.
One might say, why be selfish? Just get all that information in the comments so others can see it too. There is some element of selfishness to it probably. But people write differently when they're writing directly to me (or now other staffers at TPM). Sometimes it's an issue of confidentiality: people are not always free to speak publicly, even from an anonymous commenting account. But it is more a matter of how people write, what they say, when they're writing directly and corresponding with the person who runs the site, when they're talking to a person who at some level they know. Whatever the reasons, it's different. And I know this from deep experience.
I am selfish for the site. Anything that helps me produce a better editorial product is something I want. The community that has grown up around TPM is absolutely critical to its survival. But my fundamental commitment and interest is in what we publish.
In any case, we do have a lively reader discussion area, The Hive, and the vast majority of what we publish has comments.
Today, I'm no longer able to respond to every email. And the "talk" email box is sort of overgrown with a lot of press releases and stuff like that. But I still read most of them and at least eyeball pretty much every email that comes in. There's no particular rhyme or reason to which I respond to. Readers I know, ones where I have follow up questions. There's no real logic to it. But it remains an elemental part of running the site for. If I were cut off from it, I think I'd feel some small shade of what it is like to go deaf or blind.
So that's why there are no comments on the Editor's Blog. I think it would take away from something that is critical and treasured to me. In publishing terms, it would be a good idea - more pageviews, more reader time on the site. And a few times I've considered it. Much more seriously I've considered opening up threads for Prime members in The Hive. But I've always decided not to.