Private Eye | Kneecappers United: Online sniping provides more heat than light | Private Eye | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Private Eye | Kneecappers United: Online sniping provides more heat than light 

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As much as I like good and friendly advice from good and friendly readers, I am caught off guard by some advice recently lent to me on the comments boards of SLWeekly.com, the City Weekly Website. Usually the advice I get is more in line with me doing something to myself to shorten my life span, perform a carnal act upon myself or to do anything—anything—to put City Weekly out of its miserable existence. But, in this case, a commenter who posts under the name of TobiasRex asked me to do something he considers valuable: making City Weekly available more than once a week.

TRex may know that this paper began publishing monthly in 1984, then switched to biweekly in the late 1980s. In June of this year we (rather, I) celebrated our 15th year of weekly publication. So, I’ve been through the transitions of printing with more frequency. They’re painful beyond financial pain—lots of folks just quit, not having bargained for different work schedules. I’ve been through some body parts in those 15 years, too. You think cranking out 955 words a week is easy? It isn’t, especially when your mind has aged to the point that it requires the energy equivalency of hauling Alaska king crabs onto the Time Bandit.

But TRex’ suggestion is well taken, especially as he points to the journalistic Achilles’ heel of Salt Lake City and a subject upon which we both agree: The dailies here suck. We wouldn’t be around if they didn’t. Even better, instead of them investing in themselves, they’ve spent the last couple of years cranking out Mini-Me versions of City Weekly and every other publication in town, then plopping them from hell to high water with reckless regard for readership. So, we hover in that happy space in between—with crap for a ceiling and crap for a floor. And it’s all paid for by Dean Singleton or the LDS Church, which makes it ever more interesting. Or sad, if you happen to be employed by either of them.

We’re not The Chosen nor are we perfect. We just know there’s a void out there, and we fill it as best we can. If we think we can perform the task of being both informative and irritating twice a week, we will. But don’t count on it—not because it can’t be done, it can. Rather, the humanitarian inside me says that we’d just be feeding the gnarly stomachs of our detractors, and there’s no point in doing them any favors. Still, it’s worth thinking about, and if there are more predators in the TRex herd thinking they’d like to see more of us, we’d like to know about it.

And don’t forget to remind us or myself to stick it if you’re one of those aforementioned detractors. Among my many hobbies, I enjoy keeping a daily tally of all the misspelled words I find on comment boards. My assumption is that they mostly come from dimwits wrought of the Utah education system, and as a sweet coincidence, it’s among the negative posts where most of those spelling errors occur. They often call themselves “conservatives” or “Republicans,” but that’s an insult to real conservative Republicans everywhere. An exception to that is one of our regular site comment contributors going by the name of “jeffjames” who’s head and shoulders above his conservative blogging kin, smartswise. I seldom agree with him. I sometimes think he’s up in the night, but I can’t fault his spelling.

Lately, I’m spending too much time online reading comments to stories left by readers. At first, I accepted it as a natural evolution of the Internet as it grew into its role of exceptional information provider. At first, there was some interesting and relevant commentary following many news stories. Comment boards have morphed into a screen version of the WWE, where any semblance of refinement or civility is replaced by chokeholds, half nelsons and body slams being inflicted upon all who dare lend their own opinions. Everyone on comment boards—both heroes and heels—are 10 feet tall and Superman, but they never have to fear the Kryptonite.

If those comment boards were a bar, a place where you just don’t wantonly pop off about gays, the military or religion, there’d be dead bodies stacked deeper than the cases of Budweiser. Fortunately for guys and gals like me, bars are far more civilized than comment boards. Not to mention, bars have TVs and peanuts, just two of the many things one cannot enjoy while surfing the Internet for some unsuspecting victim upon which to deliver some penny-ante Hulkamania.

How bad is it? Well, that depends on your entertainment threshold because most comment boards these days do little to inform anyone about anything. Sure, there’s the occasional correction or statistic, but most of the comments you see these days summarily define the notion that there are two sides to every story—and only two. BYU and Utah fans screech at each other. Liberals and conservatives sniff each other’s heinies then proclaim neither side stinks. Mormons and non-Mormons have had more epic battles online than in the Bible and Book of Mormon combined. By now, every story has a predictable set of comments following it: You say potato, I say patahto.

Newspapers particularly like reader comments (they’re called UGC, or User-Generated Content in the industry) since they create additional page views that translate to more revenue from the banner ads surrounding those comments. Trouble is, it’s becoming the same two-dozen comment board snipers looking at those ads. Normal people are gradually tuning out, conceding that the snipers dominate nearly all Internet conversations. And no one likes getting shot at, not even while wearing a headmask.

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