Edmonton New Media Roundup 22

La La La. I Can't Hear You - T-Shirt Design

To block or not to block? That is the question I’ve been thinking about this week, because of a tiff on Twitter between David Staples and Dave Cournoyer during the coverage of city council’s decision on the downtown arena.

As near as I can tell, here’s what happened. Cournoyer asked Staples for a source on some figures he had cited. Staples responded dismissively, then Cournoyer noticed Staples had blocked him, and assumed his question was the cause. As a mini-furore ensued, Staples said he had actually blocked Cournoyer “long before,” and explained why he blocks people. This added fuel to the fire.

I don’t want to suggest this was a big deal; it’s a tiny, inside-baseball blip on a much bigger story. But these are both Daves I know, so I’m interested. And I think it offers an opportunity to explore how legacy media and new media interact, and to look at what community engagement – which is a big part of what I’m doing now – really means.

My own policy is to block no one but spammers. This is a relatively easy policy for me to have. Hardly anyone attacks me or even criticizes me, and those who do are easy to ignore if I feel they are trolls rather than genuine critics. I stopped being a reporter before social media came along, even before stories were published online with comments. So I don’t really know what it’s like to be slammed repeatedly in public. Maybe someday. Maybe today.

Based on my observations, people tend to react in two ways. One is to become so thick-skinned that such criticism does not bother them, or at least never appears to bother them. The other is to become increasingly thin-skinned, to the point that they no longer differentiate between intelligent dissent and trollish invective. That’s completely understandable, and were I in Staples’s shoes, I might react that way.

But blocking is a bad idea. Here’s why:

1. Twitter is for listening. Journalists have never had a better tool for tuning in to the conversation about their work. Deliberately tuning out part of that conversation diminishes the value of the tool.

2. Noblesse oblige. Journalists get paid to do journalism every day. The price of that privilege (and that’s how I see it – to me, it’s the best job in the world) is to absorb some flak. That’s probably not what most journos thought they signed up for, but the web didn’t even exist when most of us signed up. I would argue it’s part of the deal now.

3. Blocking is bad PR, which mainstream media can’t afford. I’m not sure it’s ever a good idea to tell your audience you don’t care what it thinks, but it’s particularly ill-advised when your industry’s economic underpinnings are crumbling away. Every reader is precious. It’s not good business to aggressively ignore anyone.

I think highly of Cournoyer, but he probably could have phrased some of his tweets in a less snarky way, if his intention was not simply to poke Staples with a sharp stick. In a 140-character medium that allows for little nuance, it’s better to be nice. That said, Cournoyer appears to have extended an olive branch; I don’t know if Staples will take it, but I wish he would.

OK, that’s enough lecturing from me. Roundup time:

– I liked Kiri Wysynski’s post arguing for trick-or-treating in the neighbourhood instead of the mall. We intend to do the same (although half the people in my house are sick right now, so we’ll see). As you can see from Linda Hoang’s latest feature story, my neighbourhood is a great place for Halloweening.

– Tom Sedens turned insomnia into a funny post on the discomforts of sharing a bed, complete with illustrations.

– Because I took a week off here, I didn’t get a chance to acknowledge the fifth anniversary of Sharon Yeo’s Only Here for the Food. It’s a beautiful blog, a great chronicle of Edmonton’s food scene, and an excellent example of the value of following your passion. Congratulations, Sharon!

– The Halloween edition of the Unknown Studio podcast is definitely worth a listen, even if you don’t get to it until after Oct. 31. It features Stephanie Sparks, who writes about vampires.

– I had a great time giving a workshop on citizen journalism for Get Publishing on Oct. 29. Here are some pictures taken by Marilyn Jones of mediamag.ca. I’ll also be speaking at ICE: The Tech Conference on Nov. 2 with Owen Brierley of Guru Digital Arts College. Our talk is called “Fail often and fail fast.” It looks like I’ll be talking at the Advertising Club of Edmonton’s Cultivate event on Nov. 3, and at WordCamp Edmonton on Nov. 19, too.

That’s enough out of me. The comments are open, or you can find me on Twitter or Google+.

(Instead of blocking, why not buy that nice T-shirt you see at the top of this post? It comes from Flickr courtesy Carly Franklin, and is licensed under Creative Commons.)

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