ChicagoNow commenters don’t want to respond. Will you?


I recently read a blog post by a ChicagoNow blogger. I wrote a lengthy comment in response. Since then, there have been other comments, but no one has specifically addressed what I wrote, not even the author of the post, Stephen Markley.

I’m not used to this. On Windy Citizen, commenters talk to each other all the time. We get into really great and interesting discussions on a semi-regular basis. Certainly, in fact especially, a long comment like mine wouldn’t have gone completely unnoticed. Maybe Dave Winer is right and no one reads lengthy comments anymore (even though I have proof that this is not so). But no matter.

Maybe a community feeling doesn’t really exist on ChicagoNow or maybe it just doesn’t exist on that particular blog. But I know it exists here.

With that in mind, here’s the original post that I commented on

And here’s my comment:

Stephen, I think this is really well written and you make excellent points, but I think that Ryan [Ryan’s comment is this one] also has a point. There has to be a happy medium in there somewhere.

As great and fun and life-affirming all your adventures are, getting married, having children, owning a home and other trappings of “adulthood” can also be a great adventure and a challenge. Also, who’s to say that it has to be a McMansion and an SUV in the suburbs? I know lots of young, married couples who are not living these lifestyles at all, even the ones with children. They are managing both the “adult” aspects of their lives while also traveling, staying informed, reading a lot, going out with friends, etc., etc. About the only difference is the number of sexual partners about whom they can share stories with their friends. But if you think the sexual lives of married people are boring, you’d be wrong.

I ask you also to consider that while you’re gleefully declaring culture wars to be “bunk,” you’re creating a new one. The new war seems to be between people like you and people like me (and other people I know around my age). Though I am 30, I got married at 25 and while we don’t have kids yet, we have purchased a home (in the dreaded suburbs of which you speak, after being in the city for 10 years) and are fairly settled and “adult” in many ways. But it doesn’t mean we’re dull and boring and it doesn’t mean our whole lives revolve around consumption. People think getting married, buying a home, etc. has to mean that you have to change the way you feel and the way you behave. It doesn’t have to be that way and it isn’t that way for many people.

Let us also not forget that the choices we’re talking about here are largely non-existent for large swaths of Americans. Only if you, your parents or your friends have the financial means can you gallivant around the country or the world without giving much though to a regular job or much less a career. Only if you were very lucky all your life to go to good schools and a decent college and actually graduate from them do you have the skills, knowledge and connections to get hired fairly easily for even part-time or temporary jobs. Only if you didn’t have children out of wedlock or in general, at a very young age, can you freely roam about without worrying about having mouths to feed. Only if you can afford it are you able to move to a different part of the country and experience a thriving metropolis and everything it offers. Only if you have a great, stable family can you remain a “non-adult” who doesn’t have to care for a younger sibling or an ailing grandparent. So let’s not pretend like all people of a certain age have the same choices to make about whether to succumb to adulthood or not.

Finally, as much as people poo-poo what we think of as adulthood, it does truly have the power to be a stabilizing force in society. People who have children are less likely to be reckless. Children also are a great way to learn patience and compassion. Home ownership creates stability as well. Having a career or even just a job benefits society in the sense that more taxes are being paid and more wealth is being created (which one can use anyway one wants to; donate it all to charity if you’d like). And nothing teaches one DAILY how to consider someone else’s needs above your own like a marriage.

Overall, I think a lot of this back and forth boils down to a pressing need to justify one’s lifestyle to others. You alluded to it by saying how many people e-mailed you that article. But while this war makes for great NYT articles or blog posts, is it really necessary? In fact, one of the hallmarks of adulthood might be learning to be self-possessed enough to NOT need any outside validation. Here’s hoping we can all at least reach that milestone, if not the others.

I look forward to your thoughts.

Image credit: Zazzle


  1. Anonymous September 21, 2010

    The problem is that no one responds to my blog – so I don’t know if no one is reading it since stats are lacking or they just have nothing to say. Either way, I’d like feedback about what to write about or at least a direction to go.

  2. Anonymous September 21, 2010

    Insightful comment, Anna! You really thought that one out and it’s a shame the ChicagoNow community won’t engage, ESPECIALLY the author on that. Disappointing.
    No Windy Citizen, that’s for sure.

  3. Anonymous September 21, 2010

    It seems that everyone who commented on that thread did so to make their own points and move on, barely addressing the comments made by others, and in some cases, making it plain they didn’t bother to read anyone else’s. So I’m not sure if in this case it has so much to do with the length of your post as much as your first hypothesis that it’s the readers/vibe of the site.

    You’re right, it feels super weird.

  4. Joe Hallissey September 21, 2010

    Anna, that is a long comment! Speaking as a “millennial”, we really do have a low attention span and at times I feel that in a over-stimulated world the most snappy, funny and honestly, shortest comment wins. By winning, that could mean the ones that get the replies, the Likes or the retweets depending on the platform.

    Addressing your post, I think that each site has it’s own commenting community and depending on community interest, demographic and other factors, the process of getting commenters to engage each other could take a lot of time. Slashdot and NY Times are known for their commenters in their own way and I doubt each went from launch to buckets of comments overnight.

    In addition to community development, site designers need to consider the commenting platform when trying to get visitors to leave comments. Sometimes, I resist leaving a comment on a long thread if the platform doesn’t use threaded comments because I think mine will be lost in the mix. I love Disqus for this reason among others and even though I have a Posterous blog, I sometimes get frustrated with their system.


  5. Anonymous September 21, 2010

    I think you made great points in your comment and that’s why people haven’t responded. But I agree with you, no need to promote “us vs. them” mentality regarding delaying concepts of “adulthood.” People come from different socio-economic backgrounds and have been given different opportunities in life and everyone makes the most with the choices they make and cards they’ve been dealt. Not everyone has the chance to discover a different part of the country every three months. I know I don’t. And married people can still travel the world but have the added benefit of sharing those adventures with their children. My cousins do this with their kids.

    Sure people should take risks in their youth, but whose to say they’ll have to stop taking risks once they reach a certain age? Look at people who change careers in midlife or get divorced or move to a new city and get a clean slate. Those are risks that I imagine can be just frightening as skydiving. And everyone has their own personal preference, so while someone may want to kiss that random guy on the street as mentioned in the post, other people may think that’s gross. But does it mean those people are living any less of a fulfilling life as long as they are happy with their choices?

  6. Anonymous September 21, 2010

    I briefly had a blog on Chicago Now and chose to stop posting to it for several reasons. I won’t get into all the reasons, but one major reason was that ChicagoNow requires readers to register prior to making a comment. Registering immediately kills the VAST majority of comments.

    As for the author not responding, well, that’s just bad blogging. Responding to your readers encourages people to engage in discussions and makes the post more memorable. It also establishes a relationship with your reader which results in returning visits.

    As for your thoughts about being married and having children, good for you. I’m glad you feel so happy and settled into your life. As for me, I am single well into my mid-30’s. The truth is, as defensive as you were about your married, suburban life, you have nothing to be defensive about. You are the majority. Whereas single adults, especially single women, are CONSTANTLY on the defensive about being unmarried. You don’t have to listen to “oh, you’re not dating anyone?” or snide remarks like “you’ll find someone” with the pitying nod. It’s even worse when they start just assuming you’ll always be single and start sending you an annual Christmas invitation addressed only to “you” and not “you plus 1”. You never experienced being slowly shut out from your married, suburban friends lives. Once my friends got married, bought homes, had children, I found myself sitting at home alone on Friday nights wondering how it was I had no friends. I would invite them to my dinner parties, but they never invited me to their BBQ’s. I had become the weird singleton.

    I am fortunate and grateful to have a group of 30 something single friends now. We go out, a lot. We drink, a lot. We laugh and have a good time, a lot. Are we still adults even though we live urban lives sans spouses and children? Absolutely.

    Is there a culture war being waged between singletons and marrieds? Yes and no. Yes, in that both sides feel both envy and disapproval for the other. Married people feel like they’re more adult and responsible than single people because they have spouses, children and mortgages. Single people feel like they’re being constantly scrutinized for not being adult or serious enough. But at the same time, marrieds are somewhat envious of the freedom singletons enjoy, while singletons worry about dying alone.

    I honestly look at people who get married before 30 with a little shiver of horror. Yes, I am looking at marriage through my narrow lens of my experience. I know what I was like at 25, 26, 27, 28 and know that I was not in any place to be in a commitment like that.

    Everyone is different though. Whatever makes you happy.

  7. Anonymous September 21, 2010

    Anna, first of all, I think that Chicago Now is not a community of commenters the way that Windy Citizen or something like the AV Club is. Most people are hit and run and never come back to check the responses.

    But more importantly, I think you didn’t get a response, not because it was too long, but because of its tone. You were very judgmental of the author and your post reeked of condescension, even if you didn’t mean it that way. You have this definition of “adult” that is very old fashioned and conservative, as if getting married, buying a house in the suburbs, and having children are the only way to be a proper adult and the logical extension of “growing up” and maturity. Well, I disagree. There are many ways to be a real adult and to show maturity, and simply following the paths of many others isn’t necessarily one of them, as you seem to imply. Not to mention that many people simply aren’t lucky enough to have found the right person to marry or partner with, the right job to make the kind of money to be able to do things like buy a house, or even find a more stable path in life.

    In addition, your response is predicated upon faulty assumptions. Your comment here: “Only if you, your parents or your friends have the financial means can you gallivant around the country or the world without giving much though to a regular job or much less a career” is false. I know people without means who manage to get a menial job, save money, use it to travel until they run out of money, and do it again. These people do not have parental support or a trust fund; they simply choose to spend the money they make on travel rather than investment. To say “Only if you were very lucky all your life to go to good schools and a decent college and actually graduate from them do you have the skills, knowledge and connections to get hired fairly easily for even part-time or temporary jobs” is also false. I know many people who have no college education at all, and barely a GED, who float by on odd jobs and/or are able to get hired for jobs easily without an education, because many, many jobs out there do not require an education, such as restaurant or construction jobs. “Only if you have a great, stable family can you remain a “non-adult” who doesn’t have to care for a younger sibling or an ailing grandparent” – false. I know many people who have no family, are not close to their family who are in the position we’re discussing. It’s often because they had a terrible childhood/family situation that people drift from job to job; they never had the support or background to prepare them to enter what you might call “the real world.”

    You seem to have somewhat of a fetish for “stability,” as you define it. This “stability” is not all it’s cracked up to be, isn’t everyone’s aspiration, and shouldn’t be. You’re choosing to believe that these 20-somethings are spoiled rich brats who just refuse to grow up, whilst ignoring the fact that we are in the most serious recession since the Great Depression, which makes it virtually impossible for anyone to get a good, stable job, especially 20-somethings just out of college, or with no college whatsoever, who have zero experience in any field outside of summer jobs or the like.

    You accuse the author of attempting to justify his lifestyle. I think it is you who are attempting to justify your life choices here. You got married early and didn’t get to travel, you grew up perhaps without a lot of money in a community where you saw wealth all around you you didn’t have, and you’re projecting your envy onto this author, when you don’t even know his financial situation. I think you have a bit of hidden resentment towards what you assume is the privilege of these people. You went into a field that is shrinking and you complain daily of the difficulty working and the low pay, and yet somehow you’re able to afford a nice house in Northbrook? Who’s relying on the financial support of their family now? I think what this all comes down to is that your comment rubbed people the wrong way, but they felt from the nature of your response that it wouldn’t be worth it to engage with you, as it would be pointless. It probably is, but I felt sufficiently bothered by your begging for affirmation that I took the time.

  8. Anna Tarkov September 21, 2010

    I’ll address everyone in turn and refer to you by your handles even if I know your real names:

    Nick Hawkins: Can I ask why you maintain a ChicagoNow blog? Also, I was under the impression that they gave all bloggers detailed Omniture reports. Do the metrics give you no insight about where your readers are coming from?

    Craig Kanalley: As someone who has been around the block of Chicago digital media and now works somewhere commenters are highly valued and prized (Craig’s at HuffPo for those that don’t know), I know your comment is an intelligent one.

    Ampersandra: I think you’re right about the reasons people didn’t comment on what I said, but only recorded their own thoughts. A great piece by Amber Naslund comes to mind. She called it the “reaction compulsion,” an apt description:

    Joe Hallissey: The short vs. long comment seems to be a personal preference. I know people of similar ages who like them and people who don’t. In any event, I challenge you to read what I wrote and condense it into something the ADD people would read. If it’s not possible, then I wasn’t going to reach those people anyway. And if I wasn’t going to reach them simply because they can’t read something lengthy, then we’re all in a lot of trouble. Still, you managed to read everything I wrote (I hope?) and went on to write a comment even though I said you have a hard time keeping your attention on something. So, again, the problem might not be with our generation, but with the average ChicagoNow commenter

    I see you took some pains to defend ChicagoNow and say that a community takes time to build and that’s absolutely true. But CN gave up on it long ago and Windy Citizen has vastly fewer resources than they have had. VASTLY. You’re right, no one can make a community happen overnight. But to mention NYT is, I’m sorry, laughable. They are one of the most well-known, trusted and respected news brands in the entire world. If they didn’t have a website prior to today and it came online just now, there would be piles of comments. They’re the New York Times. That’s all. Slashdot is a bit of a different story. My guess would be that they have people working on community engagement. ChicagoNow clearly does not. Reddit is another site known for its commenters. I bet they also have people working on community development.

    I’m not trying to bash ChicagoNow. They have a certain strategy and they serve a certain purpose for the Tribune Company. But what they are NOT is an active and engaged community of readers and bloggers. I’ve heard sob stories from more than one blogger who failed to find an audience there, dealt with stupid commenters and many other things. Some have then gone on to have positive experiences on other sites. When you hear things like that over and over and over, you know it’s not an anomaly.

    EBArchDesign: If I sounded defensive about my married, suburban life, I didn’t mean to. Maybe it was only in response to Stephen sounding very defensive about his life. All I can say about your tales of being abandoned by your married friends is: shame on them. Shame on them, because even though I’m married and in the suburbs, I maintain friendships with both married AND single people who live in both city and suburbs. My husband does the same. Sometimes this means that we don’t see each other in person as often as we’d like, but we know what going on in each other’s lives, we support each other through tough times, etc. I will say that it’s easier for single people (generally) to find time to hang out than marrieds. Marrieds, even those without kids, have 2 families whose events they might be expected to go to, they have to be there for their spouse in many cases, etc., etc. And then when children come into the picture, well…. you know. This is not to say that singletons don’t have full, busy lives, but it’s just that marrieds might have more obligations they have to meet.

    Back to your (former) friends… In my experience, if people truly are friends and truly care about each other, they will find a way to stay in touch even if states and countries separate them and even if they live different lifestyles. Maybe these friends you had weren’t really as close to you as you thought. Maybe they were just proximity friendships?

    As for people being married before 30, you’re probably far from alone in that and I really didn’t think I’d meet my husband at 19 and be married at 25. But when it’s right, it’s right. I actually think that the younger one is, the easier it is to make the commitment. You’re not as set in your ways, your career is still in the early stages, etc. I agree you should know yourself well before getting married, but knowing yourself fully is a lifelong pursuit and you can choose to do it alone or with a partner. I think the key is finding someone who loves the you that YOU love, someone you can truly be yourself with. If an honest search for that person is the reason people stay unmarried, then ok. But other reasons are a lot more thin in my opinion.

    As for not being in a place in your 20’s to make that commitment, I think that was the entire point of the NYT article :) Because we live longer, we are able to put off the trappings of adulthood till later in life. There’s nothing wrong with that in principle, but many people do it out of selfish reasons. That said, there ARE people of all ages sincerely, truly searching for a partner and not finding him/her just yet. In that respect, some of us were lucky and some have to continue the search and be patient.

  9. Anonymous September 21, 2010

    Thanks Anna for the reply. I should add some context to my original comment given my ties to both ChicagoNow and Windy Citizen, and huge respect for both sites!

    For those who don’t know I used to work on ChicagoNow when I interned at the Trib, and I had a blast there and have the utmost respect for everyone who works there, especially Bill and Tracy. They are doing amazing work.

    I also used to be very active in the Windy Citizen community and had a hockey blog (“Hawkey Central”) there for several months, and in my opinion I found the Windy Citizen community to be more engaging. That’s not a blow at ChicagoNow and what they are doing as much as an observation based on my personal experiences in both communities. It started with Brad Flora and his commitment to engagement and branched out from there.

    Should also add a disclaimer that I haven’t lived in Chicago since Nov. 2009 and my activity on these sites has declined immensely; haven’t been able to follow as closely and maybe things have changed. But it does bother me that no one responded to your comment, Anna, and reminded me of the healthy conversations that would take place at Windy Citizen.

  10. Anna Tarkov September 21, 2010

    Hahaha, thanks Craig :) I too respect Bill and Tracy and the work they do.

    Things haven’t changed much. There have been ups and downs, but the Windy Citizen community is still very engaged while ChicagoNow lacks a community feeling and spirit, but again that’s not really part of their model. I think when they started out, they thought it would be nice to have it be a part, but for various reasons, it didn’t happen and it’s not a big issue for them. It’s like of like getting a new car, but you hate the color and maybe some other things. But it still gets you where you need to go. Now, in this model, TribCo is the driver and the site does the job for them. My only issue is that I hope potential and future bloggers aren’t being misled to believe that ChicagoNow is a great platform for building an audience, becoming professional writers/journalists, etc. That said, it can be great for people for whom blogging is just a fun hobby and they want to do it somewhere without setting up their own site.

  11. Anonymous September 21, 2010


    Your comment on Stephen Markley’s comment was a good, insightful one. Since it’s Stephen’s blog, it’s his call on how and when to respond to a comment.

    I disagree with you that there isn’t a community feel on ChicagoNow. The post you responded to had 14 other comments, including several from long-time ChicagoNow bloggers like Joe the Cop and Ana Fernatt.

    Last month, the Chicago Food Snob wrote a post titled “Farmer’s Markets in Chicago Are Bull$#%@.” ( That post had 21 comments on ChicagoNow, which included the bloggers’ response to commenters. His post was discussed heavily on The Local Beet (

    Several posts on ChicagoNow have been posted on the Windy Citizen and discussed there. In fact, you’ve posted some of them yourself on Windy Citizen.

    ChicagoNow was created so that Chicagoans could have a place to discuss what matters to them. We’re glad that our bloggers’ posts are encouraging people to have discussions, both on our site and off.

    Hope you can make this Thursday’s tweetup at Rockit River North. We expect more than 100 of our bloggers and their followers to attend.


    Tracy Samantha Schmidt
    Editorial Director, ChicagoNow

  12. Joe Hallissey September 22, 2010

    Anna, thanks for your response.

    Yes, I did read the original post and your comment.

    I have no personal love for Chicago Now but my day job needs every CN and Windy Citizen it can find these days (local arts PR & marketing).

    Yeah, NY Times wasn’t the best example. I was trying to showcase two different sites that have been around for awhile and have grown vibrant commenting communities. Obviously the both have different styles and themes. I’m sure with time, CN will develop it’s own community with (hopefully) more commenter-to-commenter and author-to-commenter threads.

  13. Joe Hallissey September 22, 2010

    EBArchDesign, I definitely agree about registration barriers. I’ve heard from others that say they were less interested in sites that forced registration before site interaction.

    Are you more inclined to comment by logging in with Twitter or Facebook?

  14. Anna Tarkov September 22, 2010

    Joe, I can see how our perspectives would differ based on the different industries we’re in. You want more media outlets of any sort to pitch/publicize your stuff and that’s obviously what benefits you.

    I want good, high quality media that informs people and also makes money for its parent company or non-profit. Ideally I also want transparent newsrooms and lots of other great stuff, but that’s off-topic.

    As to whether CN will develop a community with time, I don’t think that’s the priority over there and maybe Tracy can comment a bit more on this. Community is nice, but you can’t monetize it too well :)

  15. Anonymous September 22, 2010

    Hey Anna, as I wrote above, there is a community on ChicagoNow and we are very proud of the work that our 300+ bloggers have done to build that community in the past year.

    As you may recall, Mashable and the Poynter Institute called ChicagoNow one of “five innovative websites that could reshape the news” ( We’ve also given advice to several other media organizations on how to start their own hyperlocal blog networks, including the folks behind the recently launched

    Anyway, that’s all I be responding to now. It’s a lot of work to keep ChicagoNow going and we’re working our butts off over here.

    Have a great day.

  16. Anna Tarkov September 30, 2010

    Sarah, I’ve only seen your comment now so I would like to address it. I hope you’re not like the drive-by commenters you referred to on ChicagoNow and will return here to read my response. I’m sorry you assume that it’s pointless to engage with me. It most certainly is not. I am always open to listening to the thoughts, feelings and ideas of others.

    Let me start with the positives. You’re right in saying that what I wrote could be construed as judgmental and perhaps that’s why Stephen or others didn’t respond. You’re also right to say that I didn’t mean it to be seen that way. We all say things sometimes that are misunderstood, right?

    You’re also right that some people work menial jobs to pay for their travels, then work for a while and do it again, etc. I can honestly say that I didn’t realize there were a lot of people who did this. I’ve recently been made aware of them thanks to you and others. Of course it’s hard to say exactly how large the number of these types of people are, but I admit to not being aware of even a small amount. So you’ve got me there. So no, not everyone who lives like that is a trust fund baby.

    You’re also right that a marriage, a home and children are a very conservative view of adulthood and are not right for everyone. Please find the part in my comment where I said that this was the ONLY way to achieve adulthood and maturity. Because I can’t find that part.

    Now for the not so positive stuff. You made some very wrong assumptions about me and you chose to allow those assumptions to guide your response. That, more than anything, makes me feel truly sad.

    First, I never made any assumptions about Stephen’s financial situation, even though you have done that about mine (but we’ll get to that later). I never speculated about how much money he makes or has saved or anything. Again, show me where I did that. Just because I talked about privileged kids who could afford to travel doesn’t mean I automatically thought Stephen was one of them.

    You then said I was attempting to justify my lifestyle. On the contrary, remember the part I wrote about how being an adult meant we didn’t have to justify our lifestyles to anyone? If it sounded like I was justifying mine, then it was only because I was expanding on it as an alternative to the one Stephen described. I never said one is better than the other.

    You have a lot of nerve to question my personal living situation. As you know I’m married and my husband’s income allows us to live where we live, though I can assure you it’s probably far from what you’re imagining. So if my husband counts as family (and he certainly does to me), then yes, I am benefiting financially from my family. Is there something wrong with that? I don’t think being supported by a spouse is quite the same as a being supported by one’s mother and/or father but that’s just me. And again, there’s nothing wrong with that either if the young person is working towards professional goals or has personal problems and just needs a bit of help for a while. If I had adult children and they needed financial support, I would absolutely be there for them.

    You also addressed me being in “a field that is shrinking” and you also said that I “complain daily of the difficulty working and the low pay.” Yes, media is a tough business right now, but I went into it with my eyes open and I’m aware of the challenges. What troubles you about my choices here? As for my “complaining,” yes, it’s unfortunate how little value is placed on the work of many writers. I’m not only talking about myself when I “complain,” but about scores of other people, many of them much more talented and experienced than myself. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think it’s fairly common practice for people in all sorts of industries to “complain” about the low pay they receive and how they feel their work isn’t sufficiently appreciated. Again, what’s the problem?

    Finally, you said that I was likely resentful at having gotten married early and not having the chance to travel. First of all, let me say that I don’t know if you’ve heard, but they DO allow married couples to travel. They actually allow you to buy 2 plane tickets at one time! Isn’t that amazing? But even before I met my husband, I had been to many places. I was born outside of the United States and lived there for the first 8 years of my life, much of which I remember. In the course of coming to the U.S., my family traveled through Austria and Italy (where we lived for 3 months). I’ve also been to Israel, Canada, Holland and Mexico to say nothing of having been to many states in the U.S., major cities, etc. Beyond all this, of course my husband and I plan to visit many other places as our budget allows.

    In case I’m not making myself clear, I regret nothing. I don’t regret getting married when I did, I don’t regret where I live or have lived, I don’t regret my chosen profession, etc. Why you decided to assume so much about me I’m not sure. Perhaps you’ll be a bit more cautious next time.

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