Monday, December 19, 2011

Posnanski Closes Comment Section

Your host on this site follows a lot of baseball writers. To be widely read is one of the truly best ways to get wiser in life. But it's not just that. Many writers are inspiring. To live an artistic life--and writing is art, friends--other artists are not competitors. Artists are drawn together by the love of what they do. And yeah, to be honest, we want affirmation by our peers. Twitter serves that need very well. Sure, there are exceptions to the rule. For some writers, the goal is to dominate public thought and opinion. That's fine, if that's how they want to play it. But after a while, the same machine that brings you to the top, brings you down just as quickly if hubris is the foundation. All of these thoughts are brought about by Joe Posnanski's decision to shut down comments on his site. Wait. That came off wrong. That is not to say that Mr. Posnanski is one of those hubris-driven writers. It's just his decision has brought out all these conflicting emotions that are spilling out now.

The thoughts here aren't concrete and already they are off on the wrong foot. Since the nexus of this particular post is to come to grips with Mr. Posnanski's decision, the emotions are torn and thus the hesitation you might already be feeling. This writer also feels the hesitation. So pretend this is a flow of consciousness post and maybe we'll get through it together.

The two conflicting emotions with Mr. Posnanski's decision are one, a profound respect for his career and his craft and second, that reaching the heights he has risen, such decisions must be difficult even when they don't feel right to this observer. The respect for Mr. Posnanski as a writer is not just about how good he is at what he does. And obviously, he has few peers in that regard. But it has also been that his writing has drawn us in to his narrative for so long, it always felt like he was speaking to us personally. In the song world, Amy Grant and more recently, Taylor Swift, have that ability. Certain actors make you believe in whatever character they paint and make us root for them. It's a gift really. Joe Posnanski made us look at the fan-writer differently. Everyone knows and loves (and has adopted) his "Posnanski asterisk" which makes him the heir of Peter Gammons who gave us the word, "Arguably." That's the sort of thing great writers do.

Part of Joe Posnanski's art is in intelligently crafted narratives that carry us along. But just as importantly, he carried us along as co-conspirators in the dialogue. Many of his posts have come from those "brilliant readers" that commented on his posts. His use of polls have been done far better than anyone else because it echoes and adds to the shared experience his writing already fosters. Now he has decided--for at least the time being--that he is going to shut a part of that off.

This writer's previous career was building a software company's customer service division from the bottom up. As a new start-up, the company went through many bumps along the way. Many of those bumps were truly saved by terrific and personal customer service. Your Fan's goal was to try as best as possible to treat people the way we wanted to be treated ourselves. Sometimes that meant allowing them to vent when necessary and at times to agree with their assessments.

In one of the few times this Fan was ahead of the technological world, early on in the growth process, blogging to customers and creating an open forum for customers (which this writer moderated) was implemented. This was before most people had ever heard of the word, "Blogging," and, "Chat." Our customers loved it. First, they found fellow customers they could bounce ideas with and secondly, they found the head of customer service interacting with them, listening to their problems and working with them to get through them. This really was something that set us apart from other software companies in our industry.

But as we continued to grow, so did the leadership. We got more and more managers, vice presidents, directors and so forth. As we got to be a big company, many of these leaders felt that these platforms exposed us to our competitors so they would know our struggles and use them against us. Others felt that we were too big by then to care what individual customers thought and found the sometime negativity to be threatening. The bigger we got as a company, the more this was debated. Until finally, this Fan lost and the thing was shut down.

It was one of the worst decisions the company could have made at the time as we had just been purchased by a major company in our industry. But that's life. What they didn't understand was that these components we offered customers was part of our charm. The fact that we shared the stress of tough software times together made it a collective more than just a customer/vender relationship. We retained a lot of our customers through the tough times, through the bugs, and the late deliveries, because of our openness in talking to them.

Once we shut the chat and blog down, we were just another big shot that didn't care about the little guy. That's what this feels like in what Mr. Posnanski has done. And what makes this difficult to say is that it's very possible that has nothing to do with his decision. He could very well be concerned that unfair comments could occur and with no time to look after them, they could ruin the experience with others. But even that is something with which we disagree.

This writer totally believes that if we call ourselves a democracy, then people have a right to bitch and be jerks. Many times our company learned from those complainers, even if they were totally unfair in how they presented themselves. The customer service manager turned a lot of those naysayers into product endorsements over the years. Letting free speech reign, even when it hurts, is cool. Limiting it is not cool. And many times, your customer-supporters will defend you quite well without you even having to say anything. That happened with our company and it happened over at Joe's Blog. Self-policing can be even more effective than riot-policing.

The other sticking point is that Mr. Posnanski feels he no longer (or at least currently) does not have the time to read his comments. That's a shame. We as writers can't be overly influenced by those who comment on our sites, but feedback is always good and sometimes, those comments add to a point given or correct facts erroneously stated.  Mr. Posnanski (a term of respect by the way and not written as a derogation) does not state why he no longer has the time. He could be in a family transition or crisis. He could be in the middle of writing deadlines. Or he could just be hung up with the many requirements of success that include book deals and sales and other things. We don't know and, frankly, it's none of our business.. But it's very easy to make the jump that he's gotten bigger than his readers. That's not fair, but that's the way the human brain works.

As much as success is sweet, it has its costs. Perhaps Joe Posnanski is paying some of them. We all want to be successful. Let's face it, we not only write because we like to, but because we want to be heard. But as the old saying goes, be careful what you wish for. Sometimes it might mean that the very thing that helped us to be successful in the first place becomes one of the casualties.


Graham Womack said...

I tried to get Joe Posnanski to vote in my Hall of Fame project. He simply doesn't seem to have time right now. He'd already signed on to do a biography on Joe Paterno when the Penn State scandal broke, and I think his life has been upside down ever since. I wouldn't have time to police my comments either if I were in his shoes. My guess is that he gets the comments section back up when things slow back down.

William Tasker - Caribou, ME said...

Yeah, fair enough. Did try to give him that possibility in the post. Perhaps it was not stated strongly enough.

Dan McCloskey said...

I have no idea what was said that caused him to shut down comments on his blog, but here's a comment on a post he wrote (about Pete Rose) on his SI blog:

"Don't think that we've forgotten that you are an apologist for those who would facilitate child molestation, Joe."

I'm pretty sure this is why he's no longer reading his comments, because it has to make him upset to be perceived this way because he dared to try to look at the Penn State scandal from a different perspective.

William Tasker - Caribou, ME said...

Yes, had forgotten about the Penn State mess. That would indeed make for some delicate and malicious comments. Another good defense.

Mario Fonseca said...

This comment is not in any way to diminish what happened to the poor kids at the hands of Sandusky and those who covered it up at Penn State.
It just seems that Posnanski has lost his "innocence" because of the scandal. He wanted badly to believe that a man he was about to trumpet could not have had any hand in what had happened.
Posnanski always wrote about the good of sports, about heroes of his youth etc, and now he is forced to deal with the worst possible things that could be linked to sports.

He won't ever be the same. He took his stance, and he wasn't necessarily wrong about wanting to give the benefit of the doubt, but now he's intimately involved, and reading a post about snuggies and infomercials won't be the same anymore.