I read the comments on SFGate.com and for the most part they are insipid, obtuse, and alternating between insane and incomprehensible. Despite some well meaning efforts by the editors to remove comments that rise to the level of being patently offensive, the bulk of the user generated comments are worthless and only serve to reveal frightening insights into the fringe elements of our society.
As Mike rightly points out, the problem also lies with the fact that newspapers don’t provide incentives for posting good comments, or promote social signals to improve the quality of discourse. I’d take it a step further and suggest that simply because nobody calls out people for posting nonsensical and offensive comments, there is no disincentive to wasting bits on stupid shit.
I get enough “community” elsewhere online, I’d prefer that newspapers just ditch comment systems altogether at this point.
Comments are thought to be an added value to a newspaper’s site—providing another reason to read. You come for the article, and stay for the interesting discussion. The only problem is, there is no interesting discussion. Almost never. Not even from the mythical supersmart New York Times readers.