At Large: Well, this was a change of tune for online comments

At Large: Well, this was a change of tune for online comments

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We have a winner. Commenters have declared without reservations, that the Pacheco family’s Reliable Market, on Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs is the best Island grocery store. Of course, it’s an informal survey with a limited group of survey respondents, but nevertheless, it’s a unanimous conclusion.

A while ago, in an effort to shape, not the opinions but the behaviors, of the Comment posting crowd, I included two excellent examples of thoughtful, detailed, modulated comments. The idea was to feature them as models of desirable debate among readers interested in subjects treated in news and feature stories published in The Times. They were not meant to be exclusive models. Certainly, Comment posters employ a variety of styles in their posts, some offering more substantial contributions than others. But, here were two well-composed and assertive posts on a timely subject, deserving of celebration as prototypes of one sort of worthwhile argument.

I was hampered because so much of what is commented upon and so much of what commenters have to say is oppressively familiar and uninspiring — definitely useful for modeling. The issues are the same, the views are the same, the tone is predictable too.

Commenters took issue with one of my choices. One of my choices had appropriated language that originated with writers other than himself (or herself). That’s outlawed in the Comment rules, but I didn’t notice the deception when I read and approved the post. As I’ve confessed before, my customary skepticism may have been allayed by the solid arguments offered by two toe-to-toe commenters on diverging sides of a debate. Or maybe I was just delirious that here were two comments that were neither smart alecky nor facetious, both common attributes that, in their coarsest forms, are grounds for deletion.

One yearns, despite so much disappointment, for comment participation that refreshes. And, that is what was occasioned this week by the current edition of Meet Your Merchant. MYM is an advertising vehicle for The Times, but it’s one that we think benefits not only the businesses that are profiled but also the readers who’d enjoy learning a bit about the people with whom they do business. This edition profiled several businesses that have been enduringly successful and have descended through the years from one generation to another. Reliable Market was one of these.

Some samples of Reliable enthusiasm among commenters: “Love Reliable Market!!!!;” “What’s not to love, best grocery store on the island;” “I just love to shop at Reliable.” “The best part about Reliable, is the Pacheco family! They are all very special, wonderful people;” “The Pacheco family are quiet and largely unsung philanthropic Vineyard legends… good to see this article. They have also mentored many young people and taught them basic good life lessons through employment in their store.”

It was a refreshing moment in Comment feature oversight, I have to say. Oh, and the uniform enthusiasm of commenters for news of the Lampost remodeling was heartening too, as was the encouragement for JB Blau and the opening of the Copper Wok.

The Comment genre is not easily defined, nor managed. Indeed, in the online world of general interest newspapers, there is a nagging tug of war between commenters who are contributors, debaters, and self-moderating partisans and the trolls and fools whose participation seems founded on provocation, bluster, and abuse. Sometimes, it’s as if the comment agenda is set by MSNBC or Fox News, with nary an original note struck. None of the practitioners is in exclusive possession of the domain. There are commenters who criticize fairly, others with an engaging sense of humor, some with condolences to offer to the subjects of sad stories or congratulations to the subjects of stories of triumphs. The collection, taken in all its fullness, is only occasionally rewarding. Thanks to the Reliable and the allegiance of its patrons, this week, commenters struck an unexpected, cheery, and very welcome fresh note.