Most of my mornings start with the same routine – cup of coffee (french toast-flavored if I can help it) while I click through my list of bookmarked sites to catch up on current events and sports headlines.

Until about two years ago, my engagement with the stories I read ended after the reporter’s final word. I completely ignored the underworld of reader commentary. The young Web 2.0 put a bad taste in my mouth with comments that focused on who was the “First!” to post, why commenter FanCPants22 was a moron and how I could find the love of my life by clicking the virus-plagued link below – not interested, buddy.

I’m not able to put my finger on the exact tipping point, but I likely began appreciating comments after media relations became an integral part of my workday. After all, one purpose of media relations is to start a conversation amongst consumers, so it’s only natural to value their reactions.

Slowly, reading comments became a part of my morning routine. After filtering through a few nonsensical posts, I started finding legitimate opinions followed by the opposition’s legitimate counterpoint. Depending on the site, user comments can be MORE intriguing than the corresponding article. Rather than putting complete faith in a reporter to tell a story that considers all angles, commenters have become a watchdog group armed with facts and their own take on things.

Bottom line: Comments are no longer a sideshow – they’re an essential dimension of online news, giving readers the final word.