Should comments be part of the news?

Along with several other bloggers, I saw a post at Silicon Alley Insider the other day about the New York Times highlighting reader comments on its front page — in this case, underneath a photo of Al Gore after he won the Nobel Peace Prize. Henry Blodget says the Times should be congratulated for this experiment in social media, while David Spector says that it’s a terrible idea and that the newspaper is “devaluing” itself by doing so.

I thought at first that Henry might have stumbled across either an experiment that went live by mistake, or a glitch in the Times’ comment-posting process, but in a comment on the Silicon Alley post, Heather Green from BusinessWeek says that she noticed the Times featured reader comments on the front page back in August as well, when the bridge collapsed in Minnesota.

What’s interesting to me is how opinion is divided on whether this is a good idea or not. David Spector and some of the commenters on his post and others argue that comments belong on story pages but not on the front page, and that the New York Times should just be providing the facts. Others seem to think the facts are probably well known by the time the NYT gets to a story, and so reader comments are a valid part of the news.

I’m inclined to go with that latter view. If it’s a big story that has already been reported, like Al Gore or the bridge collapse, I think a few carefully selected reader comments would be a useful addition to the story. Why else do reporters interview people for their thoughts and then quote them in news stories? Comments are just a way of letting people who don’t happen to get interviewed have their say.

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