By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Palmer’s method: Comment early and often

Former Boston Globe reporter Tom Palmer, who covered development for many years before switching sides and becoming a communications consultant, is urging his clients to bombard the Globe’s online-comments system.

Another former Globe reporter, CommonWealth Magazine editor Bruce Mohl, has obtained an e-mail from Palmer in which he urges residents of Harbor Towers to comment early and often in their opposition to plans by developer Don Chiofaro to build a skyscraper next to the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway. Palmer writes:

[Newspapers] don’t like it, and some of them are even considering getting rid of the “comment” feature because it clearly weakens their power. But for now we may comment and comment and comment — just as Don’s supporters do.

Mohl posts the full text of Palmer’s e-mail (pdf), and it’s a hoot. Among other things, Palmer includes step-by-step instructions for how to register and post comments, writing, “It is COMPLETELY ANONYMOUS.”

Maybe Palmer doesn’t find this embarrassing, but it seems to me that he has forgotten both the Lomasney rule and the Spitzer corollary: “Never write if you can speak; never speak if you can nod; never nod if you can wink”; and “never put it in e-mail.”

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  1. Steve Stein

    I fail to see why this should be embarrassing for Palmer.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Steve: You’re probably right.

  2. Why bother? Every comment section at the Globe – hell, probably anywhere – longer than ten comments devolves into an idiotfest about how it is Fox News/Obama’s fault.

  3. Not sure I’d agree with that “[Newspapers] don’t like it.” Comments equal traffic (and return visits). News sites love traffic and return visits.

    Whether or not comments sway public opinion (or the opinion of news editors/reporters) is another discussion.

  4. L.K. Collins

    I also fail to see where community organizing has suddenly become such a toxic behavior.

    My, how things change in just a few short years.

    Is there now some sort of litmus test that has to be passed to be allowed to be one?

  5. BP Myers

    Free speech ain’t necessarily pretty.

    But I love it.

  6. Mike Benedict

    My question is, Why would anyone be influenced — or even take seriously — a bunch of anonymous comments on a website?

  7. L.K. Collins

    I remember, Mr. Benedict, that you spent a fair amount of time as your anonymous alter ego here trying to influence and expecting to be taken seriously.

    So why have we suddenly seen a new religion from you?

    As I have stated here often, I have no objection to anonymous comments because, quite simply, it is the content of the comment that is of import, not identity of the person posting it.

    If you disagree, I, and many others reading here, might be interested in your discussion of the point of content being secondary to personality.

  8. BP Myers

    @Mike Benedict says: My question is, Why would anyone be influenced — or even take seriously — a bunch of anonymous comments on a website?

    Okay. I’ll give it a shot: They’re well thought out and logical, apparently written by people who are informed on the subject, and just plain make sense.

    You’ll find hundreds of interesting, if not influential, anonymous comments attached to New York Times columnists most every day.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @BP: I think “hundreds” tends to negate “influential.”

  9. Mike Benedict

    @LK: I have never figured out why you/N. spent so much time arguing with people whom you will never know Thing One about, let alone ever meet.

    Plain crazy, IMO. Of course, the more crazy people in the world, the more money my wife makes, so I guess, speaking selfishly, it’s a good thing.

  10. BP Myers

    @Dan Kennedy says: I think “hundreds” tends to negate “influential.”

    Easy enough to click the “most recommended” tab, which I confess to doing more and more lately. I certainly read dozens and dozens of comments attached to each Brooks or Krugman article.

    And often, you see the same names among the most recommended comments, so I suspect somebody is influencing somebody.

  11. I’m puzzled by “weakens their power.” Is the former development reporter implying that his reporting was influenced in some way during his tenure at the Globe?

    And me, I love comments. Drives traffic on the websites.

  12. L.K. Collins

    Mr. Benedict? Isn’t it appropriate to challenge statements made by others or is kumbaya and and sifting through the Guru-du-jour droppings the way that you feel ideas are to be made known and vetted?

    Come on, Mr. Benedict, you’re better than that.

    Or at least that’s what you tell us.

  13. Mike Benedict

    There you go again, LK, trying to make me the object of the conversation.

    You really need a better hobby.

  14. Bill Hanna

    I would require that all commenters be named in all situations. This was debated here back when Dan went to names only and, though I was reluctant then, I’m converted now. I don’t know exactly what percentage of anonymous comments are–by almost anybody’s definition–mindless, cruel, pseudo-courageous rants but, at least in the daily newspapers that I read, most are. If somebody feels strongly about something, let them identify themselves with the cause. Let’s see who you are.

  15. BP Myers

    Bill Hanna says: I don’t know exactly what percentage of anonymous comments are–by almost anybody’s definition–mindless, cruel, pseudo-courageous rants but, at least in the daily newspapers that I read, most are.

    You’re reading the wrong newspapers.

    Fascinating discussion in the comments section of yesterday’s Globe article about bicycles vs. cars on the streets of Boston.

    I tend to see more of this than anything you describe.

  16. L.K. Collins

    Feeble attempts at insults such as you continue to engage in, make you the topic of discussion.

    Now, would you care to address the points being made or continue to show us your abilities intelligent discourse?

    Your choice…

    Or is that something beyond your capabilities?

  17. Mike Benedict

    @LK: I’m winking at you. Didn’t you notice?

  18. Carly Carioli

    First: a couple of hundred comments aren’t going to “clog” anything on The infrastrcture can handle many times that per second. Second: the only kind of comments that annoy journalists are the ones where you comment negatively on the journalist. Third: lots of comments are understood to be a social good, thus the pervasive metric of “most commented” stories on websites such as the New York Times. Fourth: smart marketing by the ex-Globie, for understanding that people dislike the media and therefore employing “annoying newspapers” as a motivational tactic.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Carly: “Clog” as in “overload the system” is your definition, not mine. I meant it in the sense of “crowd out and overwhelm other points of view.”

  19. Steve Stein

    Carly – I think what gets clogged is the reader, not the system. If I see a couple hundred comments on a thread, it’s just too much for me to process and I’ll skip it. Or, more likely, use BP’s method (“most recommended”).

  20. L.K.Collins

    Yea…beyond your capabilities.

  21. Jack Sullivan

    @Carly, if negative comments annoyed journalists, most of us would not have survived our first week in the business. If I don’t get at least one negative comment a day, I feel like I have to check the obituaries to see if I’m still here. A couple things bothered me about the Palmer email. It’s not so much that anonymity was being urged but rather using that anonymity disingenuously to cover an agenda, not to further a point of view. Also, completely overlooked here, his claim about his conversation with Ross was astounding, especially given it came from a former journalist. No reporter worth his salt is going to agree, much less admit, he had been writing “puff pieces” and that same reporter doesn’t belong in the business if he reveals the content and agrees to write an upcoming piece with a certain slant included or excluded. I was one of Ross’ editor at the Ledger. That’s not him. That assertion by Palmer feeds the most cynical and off-base perception readers have of us. I don’t buy that conversation took place.

  22. >”…to cover an agenda, not to further a point of view…”

    Not sure I understand the different between “agenda” and “point of view”.

  23. Christian Avard


    I don’t have a bone to pick with Mike Benedict, nor am I taking sides in this debate. But isn’t it ironic that you accuse Mike Benedict of insults and then make a patronizing remark right afterward (“Or is that something beyond your capabilities?”). What’s up with that?

  24. Jack Sullivan

    @Dave Brooks, according to the Book of Jack, a point of view is usually made and offered with a reasoned process, one open to challenge and discourse. An agenda is a win at all costs mindset, facts and opposing views be damned. My book, my interpretation.

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