Note to Hearst: NY Papers Ready to Pick up Your Bay Area Slack

Having long railed against Bay Area news publishers for essentially ignoring an abundance of important stories and demanding readers in favor of Wine Country ad supplements and lurid screaming headlines, I read with some interest the following item, about the NY Times and Wall Street Journal’s plans for Bay Area editions:

Both The Journal and The Times seem to be betting that the Bay Area is the place to try first. Its biggest newspapers, The San Francisco Chronicle and The San Jose Mercury News, have suffered through some of the sharpest downsizing in the industry, and a very high percentage of the region’s residents moved from elsewhere, which usually means less attachment to the local paper.

I mean, how can a publisher, in a market it essentially owned, let it all slip away?

Maybe by … ignoring the stories that matter, and firing the reporters that do their best work?

The Chronicle fired (er, laid off? bought out?) environment reporter Jane Kay — Jane Kay! — the steroids-in-baseball-busting Lance Williams and superstar foreign correspondent Anna Badkhen

Somehow — how, though, seriously, how? — these five-star newsroom professionals were viewed as liabilities in the Chronicle’s struggle for survival.

And now the news heavyweights are moving in. SFGate.com will do fine as a source for local lifestyle information (movies, restaurants, etc.) plus crime reporting and occasional City Hall columns, but can Hearst compete as a serious local news outlets given the devastation of the SF Chron’s reporting capacity? Let me note the Gate has already begun direct-linking to other outlets’ coverage of important stories they lack the firepower to cover.

And how does the Examiner fit in? Sure, they have a knack for punchy and succinct coverage of local news, but can they even give away wood pulp sporting 50-point morning headlines about major news items people learned about online the night before?

As ye sow, so shall ye reap, or something like that.

Newspapers, El Diaro, and the Crisis of Relevance

Is it really all about courting and serving the overlooked working class?

There’s enough conventional wisdom out there about the success of “niche” print publications. Now, take a listen to On The Media’s March 13 interview with El Diaro-La Prensa editor Alberto Vourvoulias.

In it, he reframes the whole discussion — of why he’s selling wood-pulp while newspaper’s nationwide are basically going out of business — around serving communities, delivering quality, and, in general, working to be relevant to a working-class audience that is overlooked by “mainstream” mass media.

He has an added advantage in that much of his immigrant audience may simply not be as “wired” — and thus more inclined to BUY wood pulp — as the more moneyed citizenry that has up till now been the primary focus on newspapers seeking added value for their advertisers, and now simply logs on to the Internet to get the news for free.

Still, compare the basic issue of relevance to the San Francisco Chronicle losing a million dollars per week, enabling Hearst to threaten to shutter it unless the union rolls over and accepts massive newsroom cuts.

Beside the fact that the Chronicle is giving all its content away for free online, can it be that what the SF Chronicle has committed to printing simply isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on?

Would the SF Chronicle actually be doing better if its editors more aggressively courted a widespread audience interested in, for example, labor issues and public health, as opposed to expensive restaurant reviews and snarky pop-culture writing?

Newsdesk.org teams with Spot.Us

Newsdesk.org, The San Francisco Public Press and the Knight Foundation-supported SPOT.US “crowdfunding” project are teaming up to raise $2,500 to support investigative coverage and fact-checking of San Francisco-focused election advertisements. Your micro-donation will make a difference!

Pledge for SF Election Ad Fact-Checking

* THE NEED
Help shine a light on the murky world of election advertising! The ads, mailers, and phone calls are already trickling in, but soon you’ll be deluged by a flood of innuendo, deceptive messaging and dubious facts from a variety of special-interest front organizations, pumped at you via snail-mail, e-mail, the phone, TV and radio.

Can you trust what you’re being told? Can you count on local media to make sense of it all? Sadly, no. Far more money is being spent to influence your behavior than to help you make informed decisions at the voting booth.

In fact, GradeTheNews.org found in 2004 that Bay Area TV news averaged just 1 minute 24 seconds nightly covering ballot initiatives, but ran 2 minutes 41 seconds of paid advertising for those initiatives. We can do better than that!

Pledge Your Support for SF Election Ad Fact-Checking

* THE PROJECT
To help cut through the hype, Newsdesk.org is teaming up with SPOT.US to publish a weekly investigative report on San Francisco-focused campaign advertisements, running from Labor Day through Election Day.

Pledge Your Support for SF Election Ad Fact-Checking

If you are a San Francisco voter, your pledge of $25 will help us meet our funding goal, and hire a professional reporter to provide weekly investigative coverage and fact-checking of election ads, running from Labor Day through Election Day. These reports will run for free on Newsdesk.org, and will be made available for free to any media partners who wish to use them.

Our goal is to help SF residents sort out the barrage of influence advertising, and make truly informed decisions at the voting booth — from the candidates to the ballot initiatives and propositions.

* HOW IT WORKS *
Spot.Us is raising the funds, Newsdesk.org will be producing the coverage. Microphilanthropy uses social networks to aggregate a large amount of small donations to achieve a particular funding goal. Once the funding has been raised — we’re at 10% of our target — the money will be released to the reporter tapped for the job.

* ABOUT NEWSDESK.org *
Since 2000, Newsdesk.org has led commercial mass media with groundbreaking, nonpoliticized coverage of veterans’ health care and PTSD; the 2004 presidential election and the 2003 San Francisco mayoral runoff; the energy industry in the developing world; genetically engineered agriculture, and much more. Newsdesk also is the producer of News You Might Have Missed, a unique source for important but overlooked news from around the world, published every Wednesday since February 2002.

* ABOUT THE PUBLIC PRESS *
The San Francisco Public Press is a new nonprofit local news organization whose aim is to increase the coverage of important but under-covered news topics through a daily print newspaper and the Web. The paper will stress government and private-sector accountability, consumer protection and issues of social inequality. We are developing a business model unique in the newspaper world, balancing subscription revenue with public-broadcasting-style pledges and philanthropy.

Sacred Cows and Chicken-Fried Steak (or, the Bonfire of Objectivity)

I have provided media and campaign advice to San Francisco mayoral candidate Chicken John Rinaldi, and as a journalist and editor, this raises a few questions.

One the one hand, that means I cannot credibly provide “fair and balanced” coverage of the 2007 election.

On the other, what does this say about the rest of the San Francisco media establishment?

Consider: The city’s leading — or at least highest profile — newspaper is brazenly partisan in its support of the incumbent, running a sumptuous profile of Gavin Newsom, and so far offering no similar treatment in print to his opponents beyond describing them as a “cast of characters” and a “bad joke” in a pair of collective profile articles.

Interestingly, back on Sept. 6, CW Nevius (noted in these pages for his recent, front-page screeds against the homeless), decried the anointing of Newsom as the certain winner of the race; yet none of his Chron colleagues have taken him up on his call for “a vigorous airing of the issues, a debate on policy, and a clear-eyed look at the candidates.”

In fact, less than two weeks out from the election, the SFGate.com front page doesn’t even link to its rather disorganized elections page (where the lead item today is about 2008 presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani) — and in a headline earlier this week referred to the entire slate of candidates as “Gavin and the 11 Dwarves.”

This provokes serious doubts about the entire notion of fairness and balance in the commercial-media mainstream, at least in San Francisco.

How this can be “solved,” I will address a bit further along in this essay.

But: Keeping in mind that one of America’s most highly regarded journalists, Mr. Bill Moyers, was once the press secretary for President Lyndon Baines Johnson, I have decided that it really is OK for me — as a partisan of the arts and a reformed entertainment editor — to provide advice to a professional clown who knows he can’t win, but who nonetheless seeks to advance dialogue about San Francisco’s arts, culture and sustainability policies.

* * * * *
That advice, by the way, amounts to one dinner meeting as part of his “brain trust,” and a few email exchanges, in which I exhorted him a) to invite Mayor Newsom on a fact-finding tour of Amsterdam to study the Dutch approach to homelessness and “victimless crimes,” and, b) to summarize his campaign positions in bullet points and send them to the Chronicle, which had sought them for publication.

Chicken ignored those pearls of wisdom, stating that a) he wanted to advance his case for “a city of art and innovation,” not confront Newsom, and that b) the Chron was insincere in its offer, and only throwing a bone to public participation to keep up appearances.

He turned out to be right on that one. None of the candidates’ positions were ever intended for print in the newspaper itself, and can’t even be accessed from the Web site’s front page, but rather are buried in the aforementioned depths of its elections section, far from the eyes of the daily news browser.

The issue gets deeper still, however, and really, this particular rant isn’t about the Chronicle. It’s about me. And capital-J Journalism as an ideal and aspiration.

Walk with me, then, for a while …

* * * * *
In 2003, Matt Gonzalez made headlines with a near-miss run for mayor against his fellow member of the city’s Board of Supervisors, Gavin Newsom.

It was a heated campaign, amidst which Newsdesk.org conducted extensive interviews with both candidates, asking identical sets of questions, and arguably going more in-depth on the issues than any other Bay Area media outlet.

Fast-forward to summer 2007. Mayor Newsom is running for his second term, and in the polls is far ahead of the opposition.

Speculation is rife throughout the city, however, that Gonzalez is girding himself for a comeback. He’s making the rounds, meeting local community groups, and gauging their receptivity for another go at City Hall’s top job.

One such group was the Abundance League, a fabulous conversation salon focusing on social and cultural transformation, of which I am a member.

It was a bit of a dilemma for me to attend.

One the one hand, I wanted to cover the race as we did in 2003. Thus far, local media had largely anointed Newsom and ignored his opponents, which was and remains a dreadful breach of journalistic responsibility to sustain vigorous public participation.

An astute observer would consider that one hell of a news hole, ready for the filling — and there at the Abundance League was the race’s dark horse, in the flesh.

However, Newsdesk.org has no resources for serious campaign coverage right now. I was in no position to do additional reporting on the current mayoral race.

And, as Gonzalez was primarily interested in opinion and guidance about whether he should run against Newsom, I decided to keep my distance, and exited the meeting in the opening moments of the conversation.

In retrospect, considering my later support for Chicken, and considering the ongoing mayoral partisanship of the mainstream and alternative press here in town, I probably could have stayed and chatted with Gonzalez all night.

But I don’t want to be friends with politicians.

I don’t even want to be collegial with them.

There’s a glamour and charisma to these people that is entrancing, and as a reporter, you gotta keep your guard up.

And as a voter, too. Ask tough questions of them, and yourself, and the press that delivers you the facts. Above all, don’t believe the hype.

Chicken, for example, has some brash and fresh talk on arts and greenwashing, is witty to the point of being hilarious, can charm the socks off a shoe-store mannequin, and is a damn snappy dresser. But he’s also a loudmouth, alienates people, and freely confesses that he doesn’t have all the answers.

Snake oil or straight-talker?

Politicians and carnies are frighteningly similar, if you think about it.

So boot up those brain cells before punching out the proverbial chad, brothers and sisters, and hold your media and your candidates equally accountable.

* * * * *
And we, the media, must too hold ourselves accountable.

Consider: I have plenty of opinions about local politics and issues — globally, nationally, and where I live, my home town of 15 years, San Francisco.

How, then, do I handle the ethics concern of covering issues I care about with fairness, not to mention a little grace?

Well, certainly not through “objectivity,” a sacred cow of the journalism world long overdue for ritual slaughter — and not just because it can be falsified to mask hidden (and not so hidden) agendas, but also because, as Brent Cunningham argued in the Columbia Journalism Review, devotion to objectivity can “make us [journalists] passive recipients of news, rather than aggressive analyzers and explainers of it.”

The solution advanced by the advocacy-journalism community — namely, disclaim your bias and express your viewpoint with vigor — is legitimate enough, but entirely unsatisfactory to me, personally.

Why? Because it closes doors to other readers or news-seekers who do not share your opinion.

Because journalism as I idealize it needs to provide EVERY reader with the chance to educate themselves fully, and make up their own minds.

I would propose that a real solution to the problem of bias in journalism is as follows:

  • Full disclosure of potential influences on one’s reporting (which I have done here)
  • A standards-driven approach to coverage of sensitive issues that enforces, through strict methodology, the daily practice of fairness and accuracy in coverage
  • A fully functional online interface that enables the Internet community to continue developing its role as “at-large ombudsmans” for a given news outlet (i.e., welcome to the blogosphere, darlings)
  • A mechanism by which reporters or editors with genuine conflicts of interest — such as ties to a candidate during election season — would address the conflict by recusing themselves from covering the topic, to be replaced by qualified staffers selected by an oversight board

By this reckoning (and if Newsdesk.org had a budget to actually do any coverage right now) I would absent myself from the SF 2007 mayoral election beat (and any other race that Chicken participates in), and my replacement would be selected by, say, the Newsdesk advisory board, or the local SPJ chapter.

* * * * *
The fact is, I could write a totally evenhanded, very in-depth article on the whole campaign, and never emit a whiff of bias, overt or covert.

This is surely true of any decent journalist who, being human and prone to any number of opinions, nonetheless gives the upper hand to her or his sense of reportorial duty.

However, if you have a reporter who is NOT decent enough to be fair and accurate when covering a topic they care about, but who is good enough to hide that bias, the problem of false objectivity returns with a vengeance.

So the methodological approach to preventing this is invaluable, and should be both respected and protected.

In that light, I’m probably also not the best guy to cover arts or transport policies. I’m an activist in both those arenas — through my work with Independent Arts & Media in the former case, and as a Critical Mass rider, op-ed writer and essayist in the latter.

Though I’ll write you one heck of an op-ed on either topic, if you like.

What do you think? Please advise. This is complex and emotional territory, and above all, I want to do the right thing.

p.s. Chicken John for mayor.

The Chronicle’s Homeless Scandal

As has already been observed in these pages, the SF Chronicle (which, let’s not forget, is stuck in a bit of a grim spiral) is not above scandal-mongering for the purpose of boosting traffic and reactions.

We first noted this with Matier & Ross’ Critical Mass coverage, and now see the pattern repeating with CW Nevius’ crusade against the homeless.

(And while we’re at it, let’s get the issue of my bias out of the way right now. I ride a bike, I’m partisan on that topic. I’m appalled by the sight of preventable human suffering; I’m partisan on that topic too.)

The most frustrating thing about Nevius’ coverage is that it could be good, and the topic is important, but it winds up falling short. It hijacks public outrage and yokes it to an agenda, rather than deepening discourse around the issue.

To his credit: He goes after some important topics — public health and safety regarding injected drug use, questions of why the homeless don’t always use shelters, etc.

But you have to wonder about his intent when he cites “informal” polling on SFGate.com (which the Web site itself disclaims as “strictly surveys of those who choose to participate and … therefore not valid statistical samples”) to be overwhelming evidence that “residents have had it with aggressive panhandlers, street squatters and drug users.”

The huge outpouring of online commentary — hot damn, 900+ comments! — is cited, too, as journalistically meaningful.

In fact, it’s more meaningful as an example of successful troll-baiting that inflates postings — and derails meaningful discourse — with dreary sniping by a handful of serial posters.

The SF Weekly took a swing not long afterwards. While not necessarily deepening the actual coverage, their spoof — “CW Obvious Discovers Bums in SF” — highlights the pure opportunism at work here.

Keeping in mind that Nevius is a columnist rather than a beat reporter, the Chronicle’s approach to this complex topic is questionable.

In terms of visceral emotion, it appeals to a sense of disgust and disdain for the homeless themselves, rather than to the — quite frankly — nobler sense of civic and humanitarian responsibility.

Furthermore, by proposing the criminalization of homelessness in a front-page opinion column — rather than undertaking a serious investigation of why 30 years of punitive San Francisco homeless policy have failed — the newspaper reveals itself as basely partisan and also lazy.

Where, for example, amidst the eight articles returned by the search phrase “nevius homeless” on SFGate (all in the past month only; the other 13 are letters to the editor, op-eds or blog entries), is an analysis of Mayor Gavin Newsom’s once high-profile “Care Not Cash” legislation?

Nowhere. Not at all. Not a single mention of a program so controversial, it virtually defined the 2003 SF mayoral race.

We do get plenty of spin-doctoring, though.

Consider today’s column, a startling exercise in poor taste and fear mongering, in which the unsolved stabbing deaths of three homeless individuals in Golden Gate Park are used as a chance to to rehash the older-than-dirt revelation that, by golly, there are “growing tensions between residents and homeless campers in the park.”

How inconvenient that the same people who root through your trash are now being murdered on your front steps! If we just get them out of our parks, surely everything will be better.

A situation this serious requires thoughtful, clear reportage that breaks through stereotyping and examines the context, successes and failures of homeless politics in San Francisco. Anything less smacks of opportunism, baiting and worse.

Given the Chronicle’s dire financial straits, it’s also fascinating to consider this style of coverage — see also Matier & Ross on Critical Mass — as a type of convergence strategy that jacks up pageviews and newsstand impulse buys though scandal-mongering online and off.

The formula works like this:

  • Start with a controversial topic
  • Assign not a reporter but a columnist to cover it
  • Play the coverage up big, and in particular leverage the controversy online to generate pageviews and comments — which can then be repurposed to the print edition

What does all this say about the future of mainstream online media, in San Francisco if not elsewhere?

Do You Think It’s “Newsy” Enough?

No comment here, except to note that Newsdesk.org first covered this story in 2002 (both the Unocal and Chevron angles), reprised it in 2004, and even did a loosey-goosey blog-style overview last week, given the Myanmar crackdown.

So, finally, the SF Chronicle notices there’s an elephant in the living room — or anyway, an oil company (or two) in its backyard (Chevron is based in SF, and Unocal just west of the city in San Ramon) — that’s linked to a front-page story on democracy and repression in Southeast Asia:

“Chevron’s links to Burma stir critics to demand it pull out”
San Francisco Chronicle, October 4, 2007

And you know what?

It’s a good article.

Better late than never.

PBDEs and the Promise of Depth Coverage on the Web

Here’s a hobby of mine — tracking coverage of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (or PBDEs, a flame retardant used widely in upholstery, plastics, etc.) by the SF Chronicle and on SFGate.com.

Backstory: For many years, the chemical has been turning up in high concentrations in marine wildlife, birds, and also humans — breast fat and milk in particular.

One of my primary gripes about the Chronicle and SFGate was that I had to resign in order to cover PBDEs. (Sour grapes, I know.)

After repeated attempts to start a dedicated public health page at SFGate were rebuffed, I finally jumped ship in March 2001, and later that May turned in some of the earliest in-depth coverage of the chemical in a major urban news outlet:

“Unsafe Bay Catch / Unregulated Pollutant PBDE A Threat To San Francisco Bay”
SFGate.com, May 11, 2001

Since then, the Chronicle has logged 30 different stories on PBDEs, including a few national-scale items, but most hearkening back to the issue of high Bay Area concentrations and California’s ban.

The persistent coverage of the issue seems mostly due to the efforts of Chron science-writing ace Jane Kay, whose latest item was in the paper on Monday:

“Chemicals threaten wildlife in San Francisco Bay, scientists say”
San Francisco Chronicle, October 1, 2007

I would like to see a deeper look at the regulatory cause-and-effect that made PBDEs such a concern in the first place. The Chron would also do well to set up a beat dedicated to chemicals and public health.

But our hometown paper is to be commended for supporting this coverage at all, and Kay deserves plenty of credit for keeping the issue in print.

What’s more, her work epitomizes the solid reportorial foundation upon and around which breakthrough Internet news media can be developed. Characteristics of this sort of coverage would include:

  • Fully leveraged hypertext for depth and context (contextual links, sidebars, and appropriate access to notes, interviews and primary sources, etc.)
  • Opportunity for readers to develop and pursue related avenues of inquiry (via social and semantic Web media, and also “Citizen Journalism”)
  • Greater interfacing between relevant data sets and native Web technologies (search engines, interactive multimedia)

These innovations will eventually emerge. But not, I fear, at the Gate, which as an enterprise is focused primarily on monetizing repurposed Chronicle material, and garnishing it with Web-exclusive lifestyle features and commentary.

Given the realities of Wall Street’s media economy, this makes sense, but it’s at the cost of the public’s unambiguous right to know.

Critical Mass & the SF Press

[Guest commentary, GradeTheNews.org, April 16, 2007]

“The Critical Press / Inflamatory coverage of mishap at a bicycle protest boosts paper’s readership”
By Josh Wilson

SFGate.com, the Web site of the San Francisco Chronicle, last week provided a fascinating look at how both initial newspaper coverage and Web 2.0 technologies can help shape perception of a story.

At issue is a confrontation between cyclists riding in San Francisco’s monthly Critical Mass, and a mother from the suburbs and her family in a minivan who got caught behind the bike traffic. There was panic, there was a bicyclist hit (how hard is in question), and then someone broke the back window of her car.

The issue is particularly intriguing because there appears to have been bad behavior on both sides, and the style of the initial coverage appears to have been red meat for only the inflammatory aspects of the story.

As a result, SFGate had a banner day for traffic, but mostly, it seems, because its initial coverage served brilliantly as flame- and troll-bait in the Web 2.0 arena.

As the story played out and the coverage evolved, the issue got a lot more nuanced, raising a lot of questions about the incident and how it was covered.

It’s obvious the incident touched a nerve over here. The Critical Mass community (of which I am a member) has been galvanized into a lot of important discussion of self-regulation. Amid all the outrage about bicyclists behaving badly, there is also renewed outrage about police dismissal of hit-and-run incidents against bicyclists. There are also the usual concerns about source and witness grandstanding, which both bicyclists and drivers involved in the incident have been accused of.

As an editor who used to work at SFGate, and who is also a bicyclist with personal interest in how the story is covered, the compelling question for me is:

How does a news outlet handle a story with hugely sensational (and also culturally and politically significant) elements in a volatile Web 2.0 environment? How do they harvest the abundant traffic of such a story (769 blog comments as of this writing!) and still do justice as a responsible news outlet to the complexity of the story?

Following is an overview of the media coverage over time. What do you think?

1| The Gate’s Nwzchk blogger has a brief summary of the news-media coverage. There are some sharply differing perspectives on the story:

“Critics on all sides when it comes to Critical Mass”
SFGate.com, April 5, 2007

2| The Chron‘s political reporters, Matier & Ross, led with the first roundup of the incident. They’re columnists with lots of pith and POV, and their coverage reads in that spirit:

“Minivan’s rude introduction to Critical Smash”
SF Chronicle, April 4, 2007

3| Their coverage ignited a huge flame war on the Gate’s blog, most of it quite bilious:

“Critical Mass — out of control?”
SFGate.com, April 5, 2007

4| Matier & Ross’s initial column brought lots of criticism from the left and pro-bike community, which SF Bay Guardian editor Steven Jones encapsulates in his blog:

“Did Critical Mass really go crazy?”
SFBG.com, April 2007

5| SFGate harvested mucho traffic (no pun intended) from their teaser blurbs on the front page yesterday, which were quite breathless … “terrorized family” was the most common usage. (I wish I had thought to archive one of those blurbs, they were truly great examples of certain style of headline.) In the heat of the moment, when the window of their van was broken, I’m quite sure they were terrorized. Nevertheless, their front page today is much more sober:

Last Friday’s confrontation in SF between Critical Mass bicyclists and Redwood City driver Susan Ferrando — with daughters Shannon and Lauren — that damaged her minivan, has spurred has spurred another round of angry debate about the rights of bicyclists and drivers.

6| The Chronicle noticed all the traffic to their blog, and sent some reporters to an unrelated mayoral press conference to press the issue with Gavin Newsom for their late-edition story on April 4:

“Mayor vows ‘a good look’ at Critical Mass Redwood City family’s van damaged after being caught up in ride”
SF Chronicle, April 4, 2007

7| The Chronicle‘s story on the 5th works a lot more detail and perspective on the incident, which appears to be much more nuanced than the original Matier & Ross column suggested:

“Clash reignites road wars”
SF Chronicle, April 5, 2007

“Skirmish between driver, Critical Mass participants triggers another round of debate about monthly ride”
SF Chronicle, April 5, 2007

8| By Friday the 6th, the Chronicle‘s reportage had acquired an even more aloof, distant and analytical perspective, as the complexity of the case revealed itself fully:

“Two views of mass confusion”
SF Chronicle, April 6, 2007

Friday’s edition also included an strongly condemnatory editorial aimed at the ride as a whole — and revealing, perhaps, why their coverage led with Matier & Ross’s POV-rich column in the first place, rather than Friday’s more nuanced look at the issue. The editorial also failed to note that the “flood of responses top an SFGate blog,” numbering in excess of 750 comments, consisted mostly of a flame war between a few dozen habitual posters, rather than “plenty of residents and visitors.”

“Cool it, Critical Mass”
SF Chronicle, April 6, 2007

  • Keep in mind that for every letter to the editor, there are a hundred silent people out there with similar sentiments, or so the conventional wisdom suggests. But, it’s worth noting that much of the reader furor about the incident did not emerge in formal letters to the editor, but on the blogosphere — on that initial SFGate blog post, in fact. And, as with most troll-heavy blog topics, the bulk of the outraged 700+ postings appear to be the same dozen or so bloggers yelling at each other, full of the usual ad hominem attacks and such.
  • All this provokes some interesting journalism-ethics questions of how a “breaking” story should be played in a live medium such as the Internet, which is where the real frenzy of the story was whipped up.
  • There are also some interesting lessons one can learn about the Web 2.0 medium, which seems to balance, not always evenly, between “wisdom of the crowd” and “seething mob of pro and con flamers.”

What does all this say for not only citizen journalism, but also how professional news media makes use of their online communities?