When Online Commenters Attack

The NY Observer‘s Felix Gillette wrote a touching profile Tuesday about Mimi Gurbst, a senior producer for “ABC World News” who was leaving the TV news world to join academia.

The comments that followed the article tell a very different story. 32 comments were posted as of writing, almost all of them attacking Ms. Gurbst for her actions at ABC News or Mr. Gillette for not being sufficiently critical of his subject.

In a sense the article epitomizes the conundrum facing journalists in a Web world. What do you do when the commenters hijack the story?

If the comments are indeed from many different people, genuinely offering their thoughts on the matter (and I believe that is the case here), then you can’t scrub them off, even though many cross the line to “ad hominem.”

In a sense it isn’t really a fair fight. Hiding under the fig leaf of anonymity certainly allows for people to be more open with their thoughts, but it makes it harder to tell how sincere or accurate those thoughts are.

As for the criticisms that the “real story” of Ms. Gubrst is not being told, well, that isn’t true. The comments have not been pulled from the site, so a curious reader has plenty of material to go through. If they want to believe the take of “Former ABCer” instead of Mr.Gillette, there is nothing stopping them.