Column: Living in the virtual world

I have to admit, I'm old school when it comes to exploring the vast online world. I visit there, especially because it's part of my job, but I could never see living there. Some prefer to spend most of their time in the virtual unknown. I can't even keep up with my e-mail.

For those of you who live in the "real" world like me, I wanted to give you a glimpse of what's happening in that other dimension. It can actually be exciting at times, scary at times, but always interesting. I'm talking about the online version of your Miner.

Out of site

As most of you know, we "reinvented" our site at kdminer.com last April, adding content and blogs but basically just making it easier for visitors to maneuver around. We made everything more simple, and we've committed ourselves to managing the site to make sure links actually go to where they're supposed to go. Even with major staff reductions over the last six months, we work hard to make sure readers online get what they're looking for when they visit.

The best part of kdminer.com is the feature we added that allows readers to comment on stories. Did I say the best part? It is, but it is also the part that makes me want to pull my hair out one strand at a time. It's the part that keeps me up at nights, the part that makes me cringe, scratch my head and wonder if the whole world is slowly going to hell in a handbasket. (See, I told you I was old school. Just old, I think. What in the heck is a handbasket, anyway.)

I love reading most of the comments that come in from readers, just as I love reading letters to the editor. Many readers offer unique perspectives on stories, and some are very, very funny. Just like letters, some comments are enjoyed just by me, because there is no way I could print them and still keep my job.

It's all good

The online world, though, as I'm discovering, is different than the real one. Comments I wouldn't print in the paper, mainly because they lack context, are OK on the site. What I mean is that a letter written a week after a story appears, then ready to publish a few days later after we've verified it, loses its meaning to the average reader. I almost want to reprint the story above the letter so people can completely understand what the writer is saying.

Online, that is exactly what we do. Readers can comment directly after the story, and boy do they. Then they comment on the comment, then others comment on the comment to the comment, and so on and so on. Before long, the comments no longer reflect anything that was written about in the story. But that's OK, so I'm told. That's just how the online world rolls.

The exchanges between readers are a hoot to read. It's like being in a room with a bunch of my moms. She can't read a paper without commenting on everything she reads. There's really no need to read a paper when Mom is around. She will tell you what's important, why it's important, or why it shouldn't have been in the paper.

Just remember, if you do put your views out there at kdminer.com, you better be ready to defend them. There's always someone to tell you why you're wrong.

High on the blog

For example, I blogged a week or so ago about the tragedy at the Wal-Mart in New York when an employee was trampled to death by crazy shoppers on Black Friday. Here's one comment to the blog:

"Next year, I'm putting on a helmet, calling my lawyer and laying myself down right in front of the Wal-Mart doors as they open. Sounds like eeeeasy money. But yeah, when people are so stoked about shopping that they're blind to a half-ton man laying on the floor, that's sad. No kudos for Wal-Mart, but it's the people we need to point the finger at here.

"How embarrassing it must be for them. I mean, come on people: Wal-Mart? I could understand (or pretend to) if it was a super sale at Saks Fifth Avenue or something, but Wal-Mart? I believe the American tragicomedy has peaked yet again."

Fun stuff, huh? I love to read witty comments, and our readers are filled with them. And many of them are a lot more intelligent than I'll ever hope to be. They find holes in our stories. They chastise us for taking too long to get a story out. They blame us for being biased, ignorant, or both at the same time.

Who are you?

The comments feature is completely anonymous. You can call yourself pretty much anything you want. That's the scary part that keeps me up at night. It's pretty much anything goes at kdminer.com. (I couldn't bring myself to write the last sentence. I had a member of my staff type it for me.)

But, it's true. Only personal attacks (I've begged my parents to quit commenting) and mean-spirited comments are deleted by editors. Totally ignorant ones (comments, not editors) are posted, though I feel bad sometimes. Other readers can be harsh when someone misspells words (we usually don't clean up comments online) or says something really dumb.

But that's OK, says our Web guru, who hammers that point into my head whenever he gets a chance. I'm starting to understand what he means ... somewhat.

The role of rules

There has to be rules, though, because some folks have a tendency to go too far. We've suspended the comments feature on some stories, either because two or more readers have turned it into a sandbox fight between 6-year-olds, or because the comments could harm innocent people connected to a story.

An example is a trial story. Comments like: "I'm glad he killed John. John once ripped me off. He deserved to die," can do needless harm to the people who loved John. Comments like that should be kept to themselves, and when they're not, I believe editors have a responsibility to step in.

Some of the readers on our site wouldn't agree, and they get angry when we censor comments, but I believe they would feel differently if they or someone they loved were the ones being ridiculed. By the way, when I say censor, I mean not run. I have never and will never change a comment to reflect a different viewpoint. I just won't run it.

Only rarely do we suspend comments. I believe everyone, even ignorant people, have a right to have their say. It's what makes America great. I do worry sometimes, though, that some people who visit our site, especially folks outside our area, think that readers who comment represent the majority of people here, that their views are in line with most of our readers.

First impressions

That's always a concern of mine because I know people jump onto our site when they are looking to move here. I don't want them to think that our town is filled with radical conspiracy freaks who believe the government is watching them at all times. Darn it! We only have a couple thousand of those.

I remember reading that only 2 percent of listeners of a particular radio station would EVER pick up a phone and call in. The other 98 percent would never call in to that station or any station for any reason. I think comments and letters to the editor should be looked at in the same fashion. They represent just one viewpoint, no matter the conviction of the writer.

Check it out

For those of you who don't routinely visit our site, stop by once in a while. It's always interesting to see what your neighbors think about a particular story or what they think about your Miner in general.

We've never gotten more comments than we can handle, but sometimes it's close. The turnaround time is just awesome. I've read comments on a story less than 5 minutes after it posted. That's the part of the virtual world that excites me. I always want to know what others are thinking.

For example, check out the comments on the August story about the Kingman lady who was handcuffed on a plane. Just put "JetBlue" into the search. Make sure your search goes back to August. There are 12 pages of comments from readers.

And there's even a few that aren't from former Miner reporter Nicholas Wilbur or Kingman know-it-all Loyd (Name withheld by editor).