Playing the ‘comment’ game


Thursday, May 6, 2010

The reader comments at the end of online newspaper stories are apparently becoming a battle ground in the fight over a proposed high-rise tower along the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway.

Tom Palmer, a former Boston Globe development reporter who now does public affairs consulting for Harbor Towers residents opposed to the skyscraper, sent an email to his clients Saturday in which he praised the city for blocking the building with new height restrictions along the Greenway but bemoaned his former employer’s coverage of the issue.

Palmer said he learned the Globe’s Casey Ross was preparing another piece on Don Chiofaro, who wants to build two buildings of more than 500 feet on the site of the Harbor Garage. Palmer said he and fellow consultant Yanni Tsipis spent a lot of time telling Ross how the “unending focus on Don” is misguided. “But the Globe does what the Globe does, and so we at least got a promise from him not to do (another) puff piece, but to also tell something of the negative side of Don, of which there is much,” he wrote.

The Globe’s Chiofaro story hasn’t appeared yet, but Palmer is marshalling his troops for a counteroffensive. He told his clients that once the story appears they should attach comments to it critical of Chiofaro and his push for the tall buildings. He noted that online comments, which he described as “an important and even necessary way to influence opinion,” can be posted anonymously and repeatedly.

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

Palmer, whose clients reside in two towers that wouldn’t get built today under the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s new 200-foot height limit, ended his email with a flourish. 

“The city needs support on this issue and it has done the right thing in this study for us, the neighborhood, and the rest of Boston,” he wrote. “In addition to the public support letters we will be asking for you to send to the BRA in the coming months about the Greenway Study, these issues more and more get fought out in the ‘court of public opinion’ in the comments sections at the end of Globe and Herald stories. Let’s be heard!”

Read the full email.

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine

Posted in: Civic Journalism


Recent Comments:

JohnAKeith   says on 5/9/2010 12:24 AM
“Ugh. This is why PR gets a bad name. Tom Palmer wrote many a good article while employed at the Boston Globe. He knows a lot about Boston business and residential and commercial real estate. I trusted his words, implicitly. His new job, by definition, will mean he has to take the sides of his clients, no matter how misguided. He is absolutely right, however, that the comments on and on the Herald’s website can help form public opinion. Even though most of the commenters are grouchy no-goodniks (and on MassINC, too??), they are often read by people in power … or on their teams.”

Our sponsors