Tuesday, October 18, 2016

C.W. Nevius: Rooting for the home team

C.W. Nevius swears that he's leaving.  Photo: Paul Chinn, The Chronicle
Paul Chinn, SF Chronicle

Too bad that C.W. Nevius is retiring. It's not that he was so good at what he was doing but that he was the only one doing it. He was wrong on almost everything, except for his early columns on homelessness (like this) that so annoyed city progressives.

I can't think of a single important City Hall program or initiative that Nevius wrote critically about. That his column began when he came over from the sports page may explain his approach. He always rooted for the home team, which in his mind was apparently City Hall.

He never seemed to read anything. Instead, he often relied on conversations with people who essentially agreed with him.

I.F. Stone's approach in I.F. Stone's Weekly:

Go into the bowels of government where the really good sources are. They are good public servants, very often breaking their hearts with frustration.They're the best kind of source...I made no claims to inside stuff. I tried to give information which could be documented, so the reader could check it for himself.

Documenting your sources is easier than ever online; people can check it for themselves when you provide links.

But one can sympathize with the problem columnists like Nevius have in making policy writing interesting. 

Policy reporting is just a tough nut to crack. It's inherently fairly boring. It requires both time and real expertise to dive into it properly. It produces lousy visuals. And it doesn't change, so after you've reported it once, there are very few hooks to justify reporting it again.

And there's not necessarily any payoff for policy reporting, particularly if your reporting goes against conventional wisdom. I was tagged as a bore and a fool when I insisted on writing about that UC study that revealed the city's flawed method of counting cycling accidents. There's even a laborious, witless Rob Anderson parody that mocked my writing on the subject as somehow comical and obsessive (Click on "UC Study" below).

Even though I linked the online abstract of the study and, since it was behind a paywall, transcribed it for my readers, the bike community in SF tried to turn the reality that the city failed to count more than 1,300 serious cycling accidents into a joke. 

But none of my critics ever wrote about the subject. And the SF Chronicle, the SF Examiner, SF Streetblog, and the now-defunct Bay Guardian have never even mentioned the study, though the NY Times found traffic safety in our city newsworthy.

Streetsblog and the Chronicle---including of course C.W. Nevius---also didn't do a story earlier this year on the last bicycle count report, since it showed an actual decline in the number of cyclists counted. 

Readers beware: only the news that supports the city's pro-bike, anti-car ideology will be reported.

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At 10:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jennifer Friedenbach really seemed to dislike him, which is why I loved his work. At least someone was a foil for the dogma of the street people coalition.

At 3:22 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Yes, but name another issue Nevius was good on.

At 1:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ahhh the Giants! LOL


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