Communication
May 14, 2012

Communicating with the citizen journalist

We are told that the web is where it’s at when it comes to communicating with the public: Web 2.0, Twitter, Social Media, Crowd Sourcing. Government is struggling to figure out how not to be left behind yet stay relevant.

The days are gone when a government department could issue a news release, hope to get it picked up by a few major newspapers and broadcasters and figure its work was done. With the fragmentation of the media and their audiences, it’s not enough to depend on traditional outlets to get the message out, especially to the millions of Canadians who never pick up a newspaper or watch the news.

One of the positive outcomes of this massive change has been the democratization of journalism. The old barriers to entry have been erased as thoroughly as the Berlin Wall was in 1989. In Syria, where a dictatorial regime has systematically repressed a free press and blocked access to the country to foreign correspondents, citizen journalists chronicled the revolt on the streets on a daily basis through intrepid reporting on the Internet.

But the elimination of these barriers has created a set of new problems and challenges. If anybody is a would-be journalist, who will protect the public from an onslaught of erroneous reports caused by sloppy practices, or worse still, the willful distortion of the truth by a malicious blogger or citizen journalist?

That situation came to the fore recently in a lawsuit in Oregon where Kevin Padrick, a lawyer acting as the trustee in a bankruptcy case, was accused by a blogger of enriching himself at the expense of creditors. In a series of over-the-top blog posts, Crystal Cox, a self-described investigative blogger, accused Padrick of bribery, tax fraud, money laundering and more.

Cox, who has produced more than 400 blogs over the past five years, has a long history of singling out lawyers and business executives she disagrees with and accusing them of corruption. She typically hones in on her prey by creating a domain name and bombarding the web with allegations against them. Padrick, who had no history of wrongdoing and was praised by a committee of unsecured creditors in the case, saw his reputation destroyed online. “A woman whom I did not know, who had no connection to me or my company or with this case … has turned my business life and personal life upside down,” he said.

Padrick sued for defamation. In court, Cox claimed protection under Oregon’s shield laws for journalists, designed to protect reporters from being forced to identify the sources of their stories. U.S. District Court Judge Marco Hernandez ruled that as a blogger, Cox couldn’t claim protection as a journalist because she had no professional qualifications, wasn’t affiliated to a recognized news outlet and showed no proof that she had adhered to basic journalistic standards like editing and fact checking.

The judge’s decision allowed the jury to award Padrick and his company $2.5-million in damages. Defenders of free speech have decried the ruling as a threat to free speech that depends on an outdated definition of what a journalist is and fails to take into account of the new world of blogging and citizen journalism.

Yet the Web can’t be allowed to provide open season for people with grudges or deep-seated prejudices to slander and libel individuals at whim and without consequence. In Britain and in Quebec there have been proposals to regulate bloggers or “licence” professional journalists; these proposals are too draconian and could end up imposing limits on free speech and limiting the spread of benign forms of citizen journalism.

Any solution will have to depend in part on brave individuals like Padrick, who dare confront their online attackers in court. But the dangers of the web are not always so clear-cut. Often, the sins are ones of inattention and inaccuracy, rather than the obvious outrages of slander and libel.

But if you’re venturing further afield into the Wild West of individual bloggers, independent websites and online opinion, it gets more complicated not just for the reader but also for the public sector communicator who may be simply trying to get the message out. You have to remember that you’re often dealing with primary, raw material, unedited and unscrutinized. It’s your job to compare, to weigh and filter the material using your own judgment and experience.

And remember, you can’t believe everything you read, especially online.

Alan Freeman is public servant in residence at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa. Previously, he served as ADM, Consultations and Communications, at the Department of Finance.

About this author

0 comments

There are no comments for this post yet.

Be the first to comment. Click here.

Communication
 
With defence budgets becoming increasingly scrutinized and private sector technology trajectories...
 
Earlier this year, the federal government kicked off an auction for...
 
If you have checked any news media today, you’ll likely have...
 
The ways governments engage with citizens have gotten a lot more...
 
It takes a lifetime to build a reputation and just moments...
 
In this episode of CGE Radio, J. Richard Jones speaks with...
 
You could hear the oxygen leave the room after I asked...
 
Today on CGE Radio, John Jones interviews Alex Miller the President...
 
There is growing pressure on governments around the world to be...
 
The Trudeau Government’s decision, in August 2017, to split the Indigenous...
 
As social media becomes ever-more prevalent in the lives of today’s...
 
Evaluation is performed for a range of reasons:  to improve programs,...
 
Radical candour sounds rather outré as a prescription for government executives....
 
In 2016, Deloitte undertook a global internal audit research study on...
 
As the face of the Association of Professional Executives of the...
 
One of the writers in this month’s issue started a note...
 
Excellence in leadership is instrumental in serving the public interest. New-age...
 
At this time a year ago, the 88,000 displaced people of...
 
During the general election in 2015, Justin Trudeau, the leader of...
 
“Former Metro banker stole $73,000.”  “Enbridge sues ex-employee.”  “Woman stole $51,000...
 
The recent introduction of the new Government of Canada (GC) IT...
 
The way forward to engaging Millennials in the public sector Passionate,...
 
Innovation is prized and praised these days at work, even in...
 
An Interview with Joe Friday and Craig Dowden The Office of...
 
Leading the Unleadable By Alan Willett Your team probably includes some...
 
In this episode J. Richard Jones examines the rise in international...
 
Currently, there are ten organizations at the federal level that function...
 
Imagine a Canadian government that shares best practices in service delivery....
 
If you want to learn from mistakes in how to handle...
 
In 2015, the Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED)...
 
Since 2010, experts and academics eager to connect “systems thinking” and...
 
We curse meetings, but they are essential to today’s collaborative leadership...
 
When Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase “the medium is the message”...
 
Words, words, words. Blah, blah, blah. Our days – our work...
 
Government executives are writers. Maybe not like Margaret Atwood or Joseph...
 
Rehabilitating the West Block in considered the most complex restoration project...
 
David Graham, Member of Parliament for Laurentides–Labelle, is on a mission...
 
Global market trends are accelerating to increase the pressure on commercial...
 
Dispersed organisations can be very powerful structures. There is ample evidence...
 
The fact that Shared Services Canada (SSC) has struggled mightily under...
 
The agency responsible for safeguarding the Pentagon and several other buildings...
 
The annual APEX Symposium, which is the largest gathering of federal...
 
The government is spending $3.5 million to improve an existing immunization...
 
Years and years ago when I was unemployed, being able to...
 
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) today begins a public...
 
Professors are obliged to set regular weekly office hours, something most...
 
The Federal Bureau of Investigation announced that it has managed to...
 
Declining TV revenues caused by a growing shift in viewing habits...
 
Written by Tim Wacker Almost a quarter century ago, when most...
 
Written By Jason McNaught Contrary to what you may have heard,...
 
“Public institutions are the cornerstone of our democratic system” is the...
 
Written by  Brady G. Wilson You may not realize it, but...
 
Written by  Roxanne Descôteaux When I first became a manager over...
 
The good news is that the Government of Canada recognizes the...
 
given the article is mainly about briefing decks. Thus...
 
As politicians prepare for the upcoming elections, leveraging mobile devices and...
 
As the social media field changes and expands, Veterans Affairs Canada...
 
If there is one world that has changed dramatically for public...
 
For the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC), bidding for the 2010 Winter...
 
Smartphones and tablets have fundamentally changed how information is created, managed...
 
Canada is seen around the world as a leader in science...
 
They have been hard to miss – TV commercials with colourful...
 
Many emergency responders in Canada, including members of the Canadian Forces,...
 
Presentations can be nerve-wracking at the best of times, even for...
 
It should matter to citizens that governments in office continue to...
 
Chances are good your organization has a crisis communications plan. Sitting...
 
Smart phones now account for 40% of all internet usage, and...
 
Too often emailing is used to dodge conflict; why not use...
 
It’s painfully ironic how difficult it can be for communicators to...
 
Last week, Queen’s University held the Third Annual National Public Administration...
 
commentEmail””:””llevesque@iog.ca””...
 
By using existing technologies such as Facebook and Twitter, Veterans Affairs...
 
The lines between our professional and personal lives are blurring: we...
 
If there is one function of government that has undergone significant...
 
Last week, I announced that I would be retiring from the...
 
On April 21, 1992, a group of 225 people gathered in...
 
We are told that the web is where it’s at when...
 
CGE Vol.14 No.3 March 2008 Kevin Lynch is Clerk of the...
 
CGE Vol. 14 No.5 May 2008 Reaching out – it’s been...
 
CGE Vol.13 No.3 March 2007 Much has changed since SARS struck...
 
CGE Vol. 14 No.5 May 2008 Cela fait près de neuf...
 
CGE Vol. 14 No.5 May 2008 In the past decade, Ontarians...
 
CGE Vol.13 No.1 January 2007 "A nation’s ability to solve problems...
 
CGE Vol. 14 No.5 May 2008 You may be a generalist,...
 
CGE Vol. 14 No.4 April 2008 Fancy yourself a bit of...
 
When you hear the word “collaborate,” do you yawn? Do you...
 
New professionals across Canada are developing novel, more effective approaches to...
 
Au moment où s’amorce la présidence d’Obama, les spéculations vont bon...
 
As the Obama Presidency begins, there is much speculation as to...
 
In a time when communicators are almost universally under pressure to...
 
Nicole Vienneau disappears in Syria three years ago and, according to...
 
For decades, governments around the world have relied on the news...
 
La phase d’expansion initiale qu’a connue l’Internet dans les années 90...
 
Depending on what stage you are in your public service career,...
 
In my long experience watching and working with many ministers of...
 
With the initial Internet boom of the 1990s now firmly behind...
 
Il y a cinq ans à peine, deux administrations municipales néoR09;zélandaises,...
 
The communications community of the Government of Canada plays a central...
 
Bien que la majorité des Nord-Américains ne se déplacent pas tellement...
 
CGE Vol.13 No.6 June 2007 Is it 1995? Sometimes I think...
 
CGE Vol.13 No.8 October 2007 A landmark conference at Ryerson University...
 
Our work life is a series of conversations. And those conversations...
 
Governments face increasingly complex issues that often involve inter-related environmental, social,...
 
When Steve Jobs unveiled the new iTab earlier this year, the...
 
There is an old joke about two passengers on a cruise...
 
Four years ago, we suggested people, service and trust – three...
 
D’ici 2017, les minorités visibles représenteront presque 29 % de la...
 
Not to be too dramatic, but information is like a raging...
 
Over the last few years criticism of Canadian human rights commissions...
 
This past June, Don Head, commissioner of Correctional Service of Canada...
 
The Government of Saskatchewan dove into a social media experiment with...
 
Some title Some author
Some excerpt
 
Some title Some author
Some excerpt
 
Some title Some author
Some excerpt
With defence budgets becoming increasingly scrutinized and private sector technology trajectories...