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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

If Chron Is Really Gauging Public Anger Via Its Web Comments, Then People are Furious -- About EVERYTHING

Posted By on Tue, Aug 18, 2009 at 8:30 AM

click to enlarge Hey, look! It's an 'Everyman!'
  • Hey, look! It's an 'Everyman!'
In a front-page story this morning on how "palpable" public outrage pushed a settlement in the BART labor situation, the Chronicle quoted all the usual suspects. But it continued to give an awful lot of credence to "Web forums" and the commenters on its Web site as a bellwether of public opinion. In fact, in a blog post preceding this article, reporter Carla Marinucci refers to the paper's Web comments -- on a contentious transit article, no less -- as "our everyman gauge."

Do the reporters at the Chron read the comments on their site? Certainly some well-crafted pearls of wisdom are to be found there -- SFGate is popular and stories frequently rack up hundreds or even thousands of comments. But oftentimes we're reminded of Obi-Wan Kenobi's description of Mos Eisley Spaceport. A noticeable chunk of the comments are right-wing screeds that find novel ways to blame illegal immigrants for many of our nation's ills. Articles involving sanctuary policies, Chris Daly, and, yes, union labor are notorious for this.

It's at this point that we wonder if reporters at the Chron read the Chron. The paper ran a front-page story in May about its Web commenters; the most loquacious man on the SFGate page turned out to be a guy from Dallas who knocked out an average of 16 Web comments a day.

So it would seem you're making a very dicey assumption when you annoint folks worked up enough to write to a newspaper as representative of the population in general (this was true with written letters to the editor back in the day as well; even five or 10 out of a readership of millions could sway an editor). As the Chron story about Web commenters pointed out, comments about contentious issues grow out of hand quickly -- but they sure do drive traffic to the Web site.

Anyhow, if Marinucci and others are interested in what their "everyman gauge" is saying, here's a sample just from today's paper:

On today's front-page sanctuary city story (fish in a barrel): When are the voters of SF going to finally rise up and vote these idiots out? Oh that is right, they illegal ones already are and are voting to keep these people giving them free stuff in office. (That's right, San Francisco's policies are driven by a large bloc of ballot-stuffing illegal aliens).

Horse thievery was rare 150 years ago. Anyone caught stealing a horse was hung, end of story. Death for most crime is too severe in this day & age but SF supervisors should take a lesson from the old west. (We are hardly cherry-picking, by the way. Go read the comments for yourself. Sanctuary city stories are a field day for Chronicle Web troglodytes).

On Indian mega-movie star Shah Rukh Khan saying he'll travel to the United States less after getting pulled aside for an hour at the airport:"quit whining Khan, you spoiled baby. . . here in America we are a country of laws, not men." "he won't be missed!!! "is that pimple in between your eyes?" "My nose thanks you, Mr. Bollywood dude." (To be fair, a number of comments attacked the above -- but flame wars between xenophobic bigots and, shall we say, regular people, isn't productive in any way. Except for driving Web hits).

On "Public Outrage Weakened BART Strike Threat," the very Marinucci story touting Chron Web commenters as a viable gauge of local public opinion: Don't they know most of the people who post here aren't even in the Bay Area?

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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