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The CrackBerry Chronicles

With Elaine Santore

Photo(s) by Luke Thomas

By Elaine Santore


December 7, 2007

Now you see it, now you don't - Update

Occasionally, Fog City Journal's editorial staff of two leaves the confines of our headquarters to hang out with our colleagues in the mainstream media.

After reading the November 28 CrackBerry Chronicles column about Investigate the Media's allegations of censorship and deception by SFGate and the Chronicle, Eve Batey, San Francisco Chronicle Deputing Managing Editor for Online, emailed FCJ offering to "bring your jury back in for a decision."

Eve Batey, San Francisco Chronicle Deputing Managing Editor for Online,
photographed outside the San Francisco Chronicle offices.

Fog City Journal decided it would be best to meet Batey at Tempest, the Chronicle's dive bar of choice. We wanted Eve to be as comfortable as possible while she pleaded her case. She began by explaining the separate structures of the Chronicle newspaper and SFGate.com, which each have their own set of management, editors, photo editors, etc. According to Batey, "I was brought in to bring the two closer together, but it's been a slow process."

SFGate and the San Francisco Chronicle contracted with the comment software company Pluck. During the implementation of the software, SFGate requested deleted comments be replaced by the phrase "This comment has been deleted due to violations of SFGate's Terms and Conditions."

However, Pluck didn't have a tool to replace deleted comments, and suggested SFGate utilize a "blocked user" function add-on instead. The function deletes comments for all users except for the original author of the comment. Blog templates like WordPress and Moveable Type also have a similar feature.

SFGate comments can be reported by other users for profanity, hate speech, and personal attacks. According to Batey, "We rarely delete comments based on 'personal attacks.'" If a user gets reported enough, the user is blocked.

Batey told FCJ she didn't want deleted comments to disappear. But because the tool wouldn't be available in time, she and her colleagues agreed to use the blocked user function, fully aware a number of users would be affected and deceived by the blocking policy. Looking back, Batey regrets making the decision.

JimJams wrote Investigate the Media because he/she got blocked for violating the SFGate Terms of Service policy. However, JimJams did not know he/she was blocked until it became apparent his/her comments were invisible to everyone else. JimJams claimed SFGate and the Chronicle were purposely censoring comments they deemed as not sufficiently "progressive".

When Batey became aware of the blog post, she sent emails explaining the comment policy to SFist and other media outlets. SFGate discontinued using the block user function on November 26.

After the reading Batey's explanation on SFist, JimJam's wrote a second post with an update on the controversy:

"Though this may at first appear to be a double victory -- getting the Chronicle to admit to its deception, and then getting them to change the policy -- the celebrations may be premature. Because even two days after Batey announced that they were no longer graylisting anyone, notes that say 'This comment has been removed by SFGate' are still cropping up in Chronicle threads."

After the update, Batey wrote to JimJams directly via Investigate the Media's comment section. She agreed to un-block JimJams from SFGate, and asked other blocked users to email her with their user IDs/emails so she could un-block each of them manually.

On December 4, the day after our interview with Batey, the SFGate Team sent out an email to all registered users with a link to SFGate's revised Commenting Policy:

To provide the optimal experience for all members of our commenter community, we have recently posted a revised Comment Policy. In addition, you'll note that the following verbiage appears above every comment entry box on SFGate:

"In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect."

Big thanks to Eve Batey for taking the time to chat with FCJ and explain her side of the story for the record. Down with the trolls!

CrackBerry Blind Item

Which hard-pAArtying blogger and perennial candidate has been MIA from the scene for the past few weeks, drunk on power and planning a campaign for District 3 Supervisor? Word has it the candidate's actually running to win this time.

$500 entrance fee = time for us to hop aboard the crazy train (again).

If you don't like the circus, don't buy the tickets.





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