These reader comments made my day, but here’s why I’ll never answer them

Thank you, David Books.

A few weeks ago, after I wrote a post about hate mail, Books commented about his experience asking this site for help. He explained he was “at a dead end” when he contacted me.

“You came through with flying colors,” he wrote. “Thank you for your column. Please keep up the good work!”

I didn’t answer Books, or any of the other supportive comments in the post, but there’s a reason for it.

For the last year, I’ve held my tongue when someone calls me out in the comments section. Other bloggers jump right in and answer their critics immediately. But the longer I publish this site, the more I realize that it’s not the professional thing to do.

Effective comments require thought and reflection. What’s more, I’ve already had my chance to say something in the story. If I respond, I’ll do it in a future post — not below the fold, in the Disqus skirmish.

Some readers might find this off-putting. They may think I’m being aloof. But I’m convinced that my read-now-comment-later policy has made the comments section less argumentative and more helpful. (There were two less desirable other choices: shutting down the comments, as NPR recently did, or limiting the comments to a small percentage of stories, as The New York Times does.)

What an idea: Think before you write.

Isn’t that the key to having a civilized discussion? Imagine how that might change the current election drama if some of our candidates thought before opening their mouths. I’m not going to mention any names, but I think we all know who I’m referring to.

It’s not just the thoughtful comments that help create a good site — it’s also the positive ones. Good vibes can really get the advocacy on this site humming.

Here’s a comment that made my day in this post.

Christopher, you are highly valued. Even without ever using your special contacts you have taught me and, by extension, some of my friends what to watch out for and to keep a paper trail. Don’t let the haters get you down.

Thank you for saying that. Honestly, all I’ve ever wanted to do was help consumers.

I’m truly stunned when readers say hateful things in the comments — especially about my advocates or me.

It’s a little bit like watching a lifeguard try to pull an incapacitated swimmer to safety, and instead of offering to help, the crowd insults and harasses the rescuer. It defies reason.

A few years ago, in a post about sorting out real advocates from posers, a reader left this comment:

Chris, I don’t know if we have too many advocates, but you are certainly the only one that I follow.

You provide a multitude of tools for people to advocate for themselves first, and come to you after not being able to resolve something on their own. You also provide a forum for people to share experiences, in an effort to educate them of what to, and not to do. You can only help people who are willing to work with you and be professional.

Great comment. Sometimes it’s easy to forget about the blog, the forum, and all of the other people who work alongside me to make the advocacy happen. And when a reader reminds me of it … well, that puts things into perspective. So thank you.

Perhaps my favorite comment came from that recent “burger flipping” post. It started by calling me a “total waste of time.” That got my attention:

You should stop trying to help people, stop trying to save people time with known travel issues, and stop posting articles about problems so that others may benefit from having read and learned from them.

Instead, you should set up credit card links that push badly-formatted information to your core believers and profit heavily from each click through and approval. And then when the person who got the card you pushed runs into a problem with booking travel with its points or miles, you should throw your hands up and say, “Sorry! That part is not my job… See ya!”

Worse yet, if the person happens to go into debt from misusing those cards you push, you should just tell them they are an idiot and move on.

This is your calling. Stop trying to offer a useful, well put together advocacy service and showing people how to file disputes without being arseholes, and instead join the ranks of the trolls and shills we know you secretly love inside.

Was that sarcasm? Why yes, I believe it was.

This one made me laugh. And it was brilliant, not only because it described my critics so accurately, but it also explained why they keep coming after me. I’m bad for business, and that’s good for you.

Let’s go back to that lifeguard analogy. I believe the haters want to be acknowledged as consumer advocates and thought leaders. But they want to sit at the top of the tower with their badge and whistle, without actually having to jump into the water to rescue anyone. They also think the pay sucks, so they won’t even consider getting soaked unless there’s a $500 referral fee for every credit card signup or a generous commission.

Of course, no one will hire them, so they order their disciples to hurl invectives at the current lifeguard when he’s trying to save lives.

Yes, maybe I should start littering my site with affiliate links and encouraging my readers to look for fare errors and engage in manufactured spending. That might make some financial sense for me, and it would probably attract new readers. But meanwhile, the people who need help are out there drowning.

I love enlightening comments. They remind me of why we’re here, fighting the good fight every day. They remind me why you’re here — and I love you for it.

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