Sunday, July 17, 2011

Blogs and Blogging - Nobody is Special

For the benefit of at least one local blogger, who insists, with a complete disregard for the facts, that the local council is 'censoring' its news releases, here's a link to Thanet District Council's Twitter feed, which pushes these out to the public as they appear.

Many organisations are now turning to Twitter's social media and news publishing capability rather than maintaining email lists because it's much more efficient and those lists don't need to be constantly cleaned as people move companies and change jobs. So if you happen to want news, whether it be BBC SE news or even Thanet District Council's local news, then like me, you simply add it to your Twitter subscriptions and the information, photos, news and links, arrive automatically on the iphone, iPad, PC or whatever other internet device you might be using.

If you visit the Thanet Blog list aggregator, you'll notice that Thanet does have rather a large number of blogs. These include a highly eclectic and often imaginative mix of daft conspiracy theories, cats, photos of naked ladies,  local gay interest,  Real Ale (very important) and even bus driving.

I'm in there somewhere along with everyone else that 'blogs' either occasionally, regularly, compulsively or even obsessively and most of these see no reason to demand 'special' treatment from the local council or indeed the need to issue a stream of expensive, occasionally frivolous and often time consuming FOI requests, that cost the local taxpayer money. Indeed, if someone sent in such a request wishing to know how much these cost by individual, over the course of a year, local people might be unpleasantly surprised.

Now, some of us blog occasionally outside of work and others have rather more time on their hands and see blogging as a hobby, which encourages the investigative citizen journalist concealed in their personality and burning desire to hold local government to account. That's not such a bad thing in an open democracy but only, I would say, when there's a sensible balance and a level of accountability and responsibility achieved  on the part of the blogger.

I wrote before that the press has a code of conduct and like News International remains accountable. Bloggers do not and invariably allow personal opinion and bias to shape their thoughts in such a way that the result can be uninformed and occasionally scurrilous rubbish dressed as fact. In Thanet, we have rather too much of this although the number of blogs that have served this kind of material to the public have diminished sharply over the last two years.

Government, both local and national, is working increasingly hard to encourage transparency and publish information on a timely basis and it's using social media and the internet to help achieve this. Personally speaking, I can't see as a blogger, why I might deserve some intimate relationship with local government, just because I've found a few minutes to knock-up a quick editorial on a Sunday afternoon, particularly as I'm under no obligation to report the facts correctly or even abide by important little statements like 'Off the record.'

So let's hear no more of these angry complaints that some local bloggers are more special and deserve greater media privileges than other local bloggers. People choose what they wish to read and what they wish to think about any subject and on my part, 10,000 or so page views each month doesn't put me up there with the Sun or even the Thanet Gazette I suspect!


Luke Edwards said...

Simon, obviously I'm not expecting a conversion from you, but surely you must see how refusing to engage directly with those who aren't accountable to the PCC, BBC Trust or OFCOM is a quite an elitist attitude to adopt.

Making an FOI request alone is a poor substitute for allowing non-journalists to engage with matters of local democracy on an equal footing with other journos who have that privilege at the behest of other council tax payers. That being said, being a blogger who has never made an FOI request or called the press office, it probably won't affect me.

But I do feel the move shows a suspicious and backward-looking approach to the unregulated nature of the world wide web and I do wonder how this might impact on TDC's reputation as the technology evolves. The more computer literate the local populace becomes, the more the council may grow to regret this decision.

DrM. said...

Not at all Luke, it's entirely pragmatic, is really no different to other local authorities and all the information is there to anyone who wants it.

Tell me why on earth you or I as hobbyists with an internet connection, should be treated on an equal basis with a newspaper?

We have a very small number of individuals here in Thanet who appear to 'demand' or 'deserve' some kind of special treatment because they can type and have an internet connection. I don't think that's sensible and demonstrably, local government is engaging but has equally important matters to focus on.

Anonymous said...

Oh for heaven's sake. Most of these bloggers are just what used to be known as the green ink brigade in a groovy technological guise. Stop taking yourselves so seriously!

Michael Child said...

Simon I would agree with you but for the fact that the council’s various attempts to provide information this way are not working properly and comprehensively yet.

The twitter feed for instance misses the Arlington story that appears in the RSS feed.

As you know I set up the Thanet Press Release blog to provided a source of basic council information, press releases, new planning applications, new documents about meetings, new consultations and so on.

At the same time I did what I could to persuade the council to produce something similar and hopefully better, part of this was to persuade them to produce news feeds, which are now partly working.

It is important to draw a distinction here between the press release blog, something I know you used frequently, which was a stopgap while the council worked towards something to replace it and my own Thanetonline blog, which is a personal blog in the same way yours is.

The simple fact is that without some cooperation from the council I can’t operate the press release blog, so I have closed it, so now there is no comprehensive source for this council information.

Obviously from my point of view I would prefer it if the council just replaced it with something on their own website that actually worked.

So a simple question, what would you like me to do, continue to try to get the council to cooperate with me and reinstate the press release blog or just drop the whole issue?

James Maskell said...

Is the information coming off the RSS feed different than the press releases as sent out through the mailing list?