Last month San Francisco Chronicle columnist C.W. Nevius cornered TV critic Tim Goodman in the hallway of Chron HQ demanding an explanation for sharp comments on Goodman's popular blog on SFGate, The Bastard Machine. A day after Nevius' front-page Feb. 8 column musing on what "fascinated us" about Anna Nicole Smith, Goodman blogged: "Newspapers need to stop quoting and many already have Robert Thompson, the Syracuse University professor who is all-too-ready to have an opinion on anything related to pop culture and television, and gives those opinions 1,345 times a day to all who will listen." Nevius had quoted Thompson prominently in his Anna Nicole story.
Nevius was irate that Goodman would be "snarky and edgy" at the expense of a colleague without so much as a heads-up. "I grabbed him in the hall and I said, "I guess you're not a fan of what I did if you're going to insult me on your blog, make sure you talk with me first,'" Nevius recalled. "This was someone being a smartass, but hey, we're on the same team."
(For the record, Goodman didn't return our voice-mails.)
The Nevius-Goodman dustup happened around the same time that SFGate contributor Violet Blue ragged on Chron reporters for their coverage of the Kink.com controversy in an online piece titled, "The Lie of Unbiased Reporting." The difference was that Blue's column not a blog per se had been edited and OK'd by higher-ups.
Chron management saw the intramural blog flare-ups as a bad sign. The latest sparked a sternly worded staff note from Editor Phil Bronstein in March, urging civility and collegiality: "Blogging has been built, in part on healthy and often feisty dissent. It's also a little more free-wheeling and relaxed than traditional print work. But respect still ought to be practiced in blogs, as it is in print."
Eve Batey, the paper's blogging editor, says she and others are polishing up a set of guidelines for in-house bloggers (there are 24 online moonlighters already). Still, she said, blogs work only if they are more raw and immediate than newspaper articles.
"In some cases they get more scrutiny if they're more, quote-unquote, serious," she said. "But generally I want the Chronicle's blogs to work like blogs. They're not static organisms." Perhaps now the question becomes whether they will evolve beyond the caveman phase.