Jim Jones, Unmasked - Voice of San Diego

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Jim Jones, Unmasked

My surprisingly candid correspondence with Jim Jones, VOSD’s most notorious commenter.

For years growing up, I worked as a waitress at my dad’s small café.

Every single day, a local doctor came in and, every single day, he complained about the food and service. The soup was lukewarm. The bread wasn’t warm enough. This glass has a scratch. He had money, infinite lunch options and seemed to hate everything about the place — why did he keep coming back?

Sara Libby on NewsFast-forward a decade and there’s a new finicky doctor in my professional life — only this one’s a telecom engineer who seems to disdain every story published, every sentence crafted and every hire made — and loves to tell us so.

He’s Jim Jones, someone who, depending on your take, is either Voice of San Diego’s most prolific commenter or its most tireless troll.

Last week, for example, Jones submitted 36 comments (including seven that were denied). They range from baiting:

Believe me, if I did have kids of school age, I would have them in private schools or move somewhere where teachers cared about kids more than money. And the only people sacrificing here are the taxpayers footing the bill for your still overly generous compensation.

to downright poetic:

No, I’m an antisocial Darwinist, a terrible guitarist, who worships Stevie Nicks from afarist, who eats if he is starvingist, who isn’t the charmingest, or resembles a movie star I profess, unless it’s Mr Ed in face, but thinks when the kids all take a test it should tell us our schools are the best, but that’s just a foolish dream I guess

Jones has certainly been up front about his opinion of me. Here are some gems:

Libby often selects and even alters the facts when she reports to fit the narrative of her bias. She is sort of a Rush Limbaugh of the feminist persuasion.

Heck, after reading Libby’s body of work it’s clear she was hired because of her lifestyle and personal leftist feminist viewpoint rather than any skill as a journalist

Ah yes Greg, it’s our stupidity at work here, not Libby’s bias against men.

My reaction:

But I’m far from the only staffer or reader Jones has provoked. Just look at the intrigue he’s managed to cultivate:

Some want to see far less of Jones on the site: One user actually built a program to replace Jones’ comments with pictures of his own dog. Another was a big VOSD cheerleader until we refused to ban Jones from the site.

Comments like this one, for example, don’t take much imagination to get at the target:

It is due to the poor quality of some comments, and VoSD having abdicated control of the section to its readers; and one reader in particular, who floods the space with aggressively rude and ridiculous remarks, refuses to respectfully and reasonably engage when questioned and challenged, and continually paints a deeply disturbing picture of our society by projecting his inner most fears and fantasies on everyone who crosses his path.

I couldn’t take the mystery any longer, so I reached out to Jones. And, to my surprise, he responded promptly and was willing to answer anything.

And, as if anticipating that the photo he has used as an avatar on our site — a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag that has become an icon of the tea party right — left something to be desired, he sent along some photos too.

Photo courtesy of Jim Jones
Photo courtesy of Jim Jones

Here’s the bulk of our email conversation.

How much time do you think you spend on VOSD every day?

Perhaps an hour total, in little chunks. I work in front of a computer, and often have minutes of downtime as processes run or I am waiting on something so I have several sites open all the time and check them when I get a break, it helps keep my mind active and feeds my news junkie.

You often voice strong negative opinions on stories and the way they’re covered — what keeps you coming back every day?

What fun would it be to reply “I agree with Sara Libby” every day? I find the more liberal sites like OB Rag (and even SD Reader) painful to read at times, and the average UT comments section is way to [sic] busy and has a serious Least Common Denominator problem (although plenty of the VOSD posters are there as well, usually bashing Manchester just like they do on VOSD).

If I had time to post long, reasoned replies I would post to more conservative blogs with a wider scope and in a more serious manner, but usually my posts are very quickly done in a few seconds time.

What do you think VOSD does best? And worst?

I appreciate that VOSD covers more depth on local politics than I have time to follow on my own. It still leaves something to be desired on depth at times, but it is the best game in town, although UT does a decent job as well I give the edge to you guys.

I think the most difficult task of running any organization is retaining good people, especially on a journalists pay, and I think VOSD has an issue in that department. I wasn’t a big fan of Emily (Alpert), but when school issues were at the forefront of local politics she went away, and the depth of school coverage decreased.

I also think there is an overall bias to the left on VOSD (big surprise there :)).

I have serious concerns with Will (Carless) leaving, he is the most centrist of your group, and the one who adds the most value to the site I think. I hope you don’t replace him with someone left of center who’s focus will be solely on playing gotcha with the right.

What other news sites, stations, papers do you visit regularly?

Drudge, Fox, ijreview, briebart [sic], occasionally the UT, a couple others I gravitate toward on occasion then get bored with.

People who don’t really understand the internet or journalism often voice this stereotype of bloggers as people writing from their basement, in their pajamas. As much as that’s a ridiculous notion, I think journalists often fall into the same trap when it comes to frequent commenters who we don’t know personally — we assume they have nothing better to do. Are there any details you can share that can shake us of that notion: Where you live, other hobbies, your career, etc.?

If I had something better to do, why would I be posting on VOSD instead? Honestly I am not too terribly concerned with your notions of me or dissuading you of your preconceptions. But if you want to know a little about me for your own curiosity I’ll play along. I live on a boat with my wife and dog, I like working on stuff, especially if I can use my hands and brain together, I work in telecom as an engineer for my day job. In my younger days I used to do martial arts, ride motorbikes, play D&D, shoot guns, drink. I have had jobs that included extensive travel, including international, but now I work in an office where the view doesn’t change, take care of my aged dog, keep my house in order and don’t have time for much else. I’m not a terribly private person, but I likewise don’t see the need to explain or reveal myself in detail beyond that, and I am hardly a mystery. You can always friend me on facebook (not that I am that active there), or not if you don’t want me to comment my tea party right wing take on whatever you post there.

Are you a member of Voice of San Diego? Why/why not?

I am not a supporter/member.

The first reason is that I don’t give out money lightly or often. Aside from my NRA membership I give to pet charities and anti-whaling anti-dolphin-killing organizations and that’s about it.

I also consider VOSD left of center overall, not a truly neutral news source, and many of my posts are censored, often for no reason I can see, often it’s the posts I put the most time into, other times it’s certain subject matter (like mentioning prior to the election that Filner took money from the MEK, listed as a terrorist organization, for a trip to Paris. That was censored any time I tried to bring it up even though it is newsworthy fact).

There also seems to be a double standard. Bob Stein is free to insult me for instance, his latest post certainly does and other posts have as well, some even by name (although he doesn’t use my name this time).

The second reason is I am pretty certain eventually Bob Stein and a few others will get their way and I will be banned from making comments, as there is little doubt in my mind that if public union employees could vote me off the site they would, and the argument that my opinion is hurting membership is a powerful incentive, true or not.

♦♦♦

To his credit, Jones doesn’t hide behind the cloak of anonymity the internet can easily provide — he answered every question.

I often tell reporters to take face-to-face meetings with sources when they can, because it’s harder for people to refuse to speak with you for stories when they’ve shaken your hand and made small talk about their kid’s school recital.

That same idea came back to haunt me a bit here — it’s a little easier to forget that someone has consistently dismissed you as undeserving of your job because you have a strong feminist viewpoint when you’re swapping emails about cute dogs.

On the site, though, Jones is almost uniformly rude. I certainly sympathize with the people who feel he’s personally insulted them — as you can see, I’ve landed on that list more than once.

But he is engaged with the news and has a pretty solid grasp of the facts on various issues (as for how he chooses to wield them, I’ll let you be the judge). We do cut about one out of every 20 of Jones’ posts, when we feel they’ve crossed a line or include an inflammatory insult. For the most part, though, he has been careful to play by the rules.

Ultimately, Jones is relatively harmless compared to some hall-of-fame internet trolls like this guy, or this one.

Then again, being not-the-biggest-asshole-on-the-internet isn’t a very high bar to clear.

Journalism is a pretty volatile business. Stories fall through. News breaks unexpectedly. And yet, Jones is always there, like clockwork, with an irritating response. In a chaotic work world, I guess that’s weirdly comforting.

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