Left In Lowell

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September 21, 2011

Blogger Ethics?!?!?!

by at 2:50 pm.

LEON GAUMOND:
You know, everyone loves to beat on the unknown government. Who knows who the town administrator really is? Who knows who these selectmen are? … What I did was I ended up using technology in the response as a tool to try to make government more accessible and more human at the same time.

It helps to make the community leaders viewed not only as the eggheads you see on television at the selectmen meetings or in the newspaper talking about this, that or the other thing, but they’re also people who have their own families. They have their own lives, they’re trying to be part of a community. (emphasis mine)

Leon Gaumond has been the town administrator in West Boylston for seven years and previously served in a similar position in East Longmeadow. He is president of the Massachusetts Municipal Management Association.

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Please follow me below the fold.

I’ve been told the cliche,”This ain’t beanbag.” Yep. Tru dat, yo. But, maybe we forget that it is “We The People” and that government at every level is just us, doing the best (and worst) that we can.

A friend called me today and said, “Jack, write every blog post from the perspective that you are completely wrong. That way you won’t write anything you can’t easily take back and apologize for.”

What I don’t want to do is peddle political pornography. Below are some other folks thoughts on what blogging, activism and local government mean to each other. I picked the parts I liked best.

(UN)CIVIL DISCOURSE: Local Officials Share Their Strategies for Dealing With Bloggers, Commenters, and Other Harsh Critics
By John Ouellette

MUNICIPAL ADVOCATE Vol. 26, No. 1
They’re out there. The often-anonymous critics of local government—indeed, of government at all levels—are making their voices heard all day, every day, in blog posts, on newspaper websites, and in any other online forum they can find. Their posts, often fraught with misspellings, grammatical errors and misinformation, hurl vitriol and personal insults in the direction of those who are elected or appointed to serve their community. Taken on their face, these comments would suggest that local government is a haven for corruption and mismanagement. Reading the comments, one could also conclude that politics has gotten ugly—really ugly—even at the local level. People are mad as hell and, well, you know the rest.

JOSHUA OSTROFF:
If you make it a goal and a practice of local government to provide opportunities for people to participate in all the decisions that are made in their names, then you have a more robust local democracy, you feed the pipeline for future leaders, and you make decisions that reflect the most balanced possible perspective of the citizenry.

-snip

I believe that everything we do as local officials is modeling the behavior that we expect from our citizens.

Joshua Ostroff, a selectman in Natick for the past five years, is president of the Massachusetts Municipal Association.

SCOTT LANG:
You have to be able to find some stability in your day-to-day public debate. Otherwise, you’ll end up having the old-fashioned mob rule. The person with the loudest voice, the person who drives the hardest position, will be the one who runs up in front.

Scott Lang has been the mayor of New Bedford since 2006 and is president of the Massachusetts Mayors’ Association.

COLLEEN CORONA:
The atmosphere that’s out there now is, if you change your mind, you’re a flip-flopper. If you say, “I don’t know,” you’re uninformed. … So it’s discouraging when you get into this field and you realize that everything you do, someone is going to find a fault with. But you just have to continue forward, knowing that you are doing what you think is best for your community.

-snip

I think the most important thing is to make sure you have a really good relationship with the [local newspaper reporters and editors], so they feel free to call you and ask you anything.

Colleen Corona has been a selectman in Easton for nine years and has served as chair of the board for the past eight years. She is a former president of the Massachusetts Selectmen’s Association.

ROBERT LOGAN:
I understand the concept of allowing anonymous comments. The intention behind it is that it would allow for free-flowing discussion, whereas if people had to identify themselves, they would maybe fear some reprisal. … What instead has happened is that it has allowed these basically nasty people to drive all intelligent discourse away. It’s really very unfortunate, because I think that some of these things could have provided a vehicle for, an opportunity for, intelligent discourse on every item that’s brought up.

Robert Logan has been a city councillor in Waltham for twenty years. He is president of the Massachusetts Municipal Councillors’ Association.

ROBERT DOLAN:
The blogs, when not monitored and used appropriately, can be one of the most damaging, negative, hurtful things ever invented. … You should be able to say anything about me that you want, but when teachers are being called out by name on the blog sites, when people are insulted, when Little League All-Star teams are discussed, when what police officers are doing in their free time is discussed, it creates an incredibly negative atmosphere. That is detrimental to the political discourse.

I think in many communities, that is the number one issue that’s damaging political discourse.

Robert Dolan has been the mayor of Melrose since 2002. He is a former president of the Massachusetts Mayors’ Association.

JOHN PETRIN:
What I try to do is show a little empathy to begin with and get them to converse with you. I’m not afraid to tell someone to get the hell out sometimes. … I don’t mind people yelling at me as much, but sometimes if they’re going after my staff, I’ll say, “You need to find a proper voice. Just because we’re public servants doesn’t mean you have the right to mistreat us.”

We’re not perfect in government. Sometimes they have a legitimate beef. But the one thing I do tell my staff, and I tell everybody, is that the difference between government and business is that the customer is not always right. … We need to be able to explain to the citizens why we do things, and that what we do for you, we will also do for the next customer who walks through the door.

I always go back to why I’m in the business, it’s public service. And I always try to go back to the person who was very appreciative of the service you provided, and there are more of those than there are the people who don’t want to understand.

John Petrin has been the town manager in Ashland for the past six years and previously served as the town administrator in Harvard and executive secretary in Pepperell. He is a former president of the Massachusetts Municipal Association.

19 Responses to “Blogger Ethics?!?!?!”

  1. C R Krieger Says:

    Re the Robert Dolan comment “The blogs, when not monitored and used appropriately…” I find that chilling.  No one should be monitoring blogs and making sure they are used appropriately.  That is fascism, as I understand the term.  Wayward bloggers should be admonished and loved and cherished.  But, who is to monitor the blogs?  Only other bloggers and those who comment.

    Remember, Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?—”Who watches the watchmen?”  That is what the Roman poet Juvenal wanted to know.  And he lived a long time ago.

    The First Amendment!

    Regards  —  Cliff

  2. Publius Says:

    I don’t see what is wrong with the anonymity of comments. Anonymity gives a certain a freedom to be completely truthful, even if it is painful to some. Often times, it is the anonymous who start he ball rolling on scandals. In the old days, the news media vetted them, usually successfully, sometimes not. Today, on the internet we see the raw material, not the vetted material. I think most blog readers can distinguish between those on raging rants and those who have an actual opinion with a basis of facts, no matter how much we may disagree with the ultimate conclusion.

    We must remember that the debate on the U.S. Constitution was done with a fair amount of anonymity. Hence, the origin of my screen name.

  3. Jack Says:

    @CRK I hope Mr Dolan wasn’t suggesting big brother-like monitoring. I am okay with self policing by forum members and, of course, moderators exercising their prerogatives.

    @Publius At LiL, the “policy” is that you can use a “handle,” but please stick to one. This allows the readers to get a sense of the commentor. You, Publius, stick to one. So, we cool.

    Commentors using several aliases are frowned upon. Abusive commentors, anon or not, are not long for this blog.

    As for our Founder’s habits, they where subject to the King’s wrath. No due process and a hanging. So, I can see their desire to use an anon. I see today, with criminal gangs, they use aliases and nicknames to complicate the lives of rivals and the Five-O.

  4. evelyn Says:

    When people put themselves out in the public, they have to be open to criticism no matter how harsh or (in their opinion) deserved. It’s part of being a politician. If you want to lead a quiet and anonymous life, don’t run for office; don’t publish press releases; don’t audition for political appointments; don’t claim authority over others. But once you claim that you are right and others are wrong, be prepared for criticism.

    The Supreme Court said it best when they said: “The solution to bad speech is more speech.” You can disagree with something and choose to respond, or choose to ignore, but censorship is un-American, plain and simple.

  5. Jack Says:

    This:
    Photobucket

  6. Jack Says:

    Not This:
    Photobucket

  7. Jack Says:

    evelyn,
    Being a public figure does not create an open season on your character, integrity, honor, family or your pet dog.

    Whistleblowers enjoy a well deserved place of sanctuary, as a public good. Cranks, misfits and asshats can go pound sand, imho.

  8. Publius Says:

    Jack,

    I am sure King George and Parliament thought the Founding Fathers were cranks, misfits and worse.

  9. Jack Says:

    Publius,
    Even if King George and Parliament thought they were scholars and gentlemen, the hangings were all but assured.

    I’m fine with you picking a nickname the reflects our national heritage. As long as you don’t feign as if you have some greater proximity to it, then I or my progressive peers. Sarah Palin likes to speak of “real Americans.” This is a notion I soundly reject. We have citizens and not citizens. I’m married to a “not citizen.” She is a better American than most.

  10. Jack Says:

    I didn’t mean to go off on a tangent about patriotism. mea culpa

    Use your name or don’t, that’s cool. Just stick to what you use. That is the guidance.

  11. Magnolia Says:

    Oh for heaven’s sake- every blogger has a right to say what they want as long as it is not an out and out lie or deliberately defamatory. I don’ agree with a lot of what you have to say - but I do want to know other people’s opinion and why they have it. And I have my blog name for a reason. .

  12. Jack Says:

    Magnolia,
    I like you as an example. You use a “handle” but you provide the admins with a real ID. That is the best compromise, imho.

    I’d also like to remind eveyone that the diary is not just about being anonymous. Is there civic duty in what we do? Or, is this all political pornography with copius public mental masturbation?

    When I read certain Councilor’s quotes in the Sun or watch them in action under the Klieg lights of LTC, I sure can’t sense where the hell the bar has been set.

  13. Fran McDougall Says:

    I am amused by anonymous bloggers who continuousaly pat themselves on the back for “telling it as like is”. Most of them have never attempted to solve problems by volunteering in their local community to actually observe their elected officials at work. Throwing brick bats out into the air without substantiation is the act of a coward. Ordinary people run for office. You elect them. At least get involved where you can to assist them in the many tasks they’re asked to handle. Just because a decision is reached which you disagree with, doesn’t mean it was arrived at in some evil illegal way. I have still failed to find the back room here in Chelmsford in which all the dastardly deeds were done by the selectman who were accused of “shenanigans”. Firm up your backbone when you comment on these things. You were given a name by your parents. You should not be so afraid of using it.

  14. evelyn Says:

    @Fran: Seriously… who do you think most bloggers are and who signs their paychecks?

    Most bloggers I know are 1) government employees who will not use their real names for fear of being terminated/passed over for promotion; 2) politicians (at least one elected); 3) political supporters and insiders; 4) people who are angling to be an insider or get an appointment.

    Really. What other group would care about most of what happens in that circle?

  15. Jack Says:

    evelyn,
    What is an insider?

    I’m going to say, most folks that blog are “high information voters.” But I’m not sure I would label them, as you have. Maybe I would substitute “insider” with “activist?” Though, good activists end up on the inside.

  16. evelyn Says:

    in·sid·er
    n.
    1. An accepted member of a group.
    2. One who has special knowledge or access to confidential information.

    I would not substitute the word activist for most bloggers in the Lowell City Politics arena. There are far too few and, from the ones I know personally, they are insiders (on the city payroll) or people angling for an inside position in some capacity. Many others that I know come from political families where so called activism is really an extension of personal financial interests or a continuation of the family business. I will concede that there are some purist “high information voters” but they are the minority of bloggers; most I know are motivated by a desire to get into the game and win some favor (position, raise, influence, etc), or to protect a political interest (position, raise, influence, etc). And, finally, there are a small few who are just looking to fill a void in their lives by the equivalent of fantasy role playing — be the leader of a revolution/movement/organization of the anonymous (think Dungeons and Dragons for people over 40).

    Now not all insiders are created equally, and not all can act freely: compare and contrast the Register of Deeds with the sitting City Councilor. When they comment on happenings in Lowell, they do so from two totally different perspectives and levels of safety. Some government employees have been ‘discouraged’ from blogging because of their access to confidential information, and have to blog anonymously. So I’ll sum it up by quoting Sir Winston Churchill who said: “Where you stand depends on where you sit.” Those who overtly support a particular person are those who are benefiting or hoping to, while those who deride are those people who feel they have been done an injustice. Many on the sidelines can avoid supporting or objecting to a person and instead support a system… but few of them blog.

  17. Jack Says:

    evelyn,
    Your sweeping generalizations present a pickle, as you are niether completely wrong or right.

    I sorta thought of myself as a purist activist, but then realized I enjoy the fantasy role play of the palace intrigue and I would gladly serve on a board or commission, if my City asked me to serve.

    I guess when you use a shotgun, evelyn, you are bound to hit something.

  18. evelyn Says:

    Now I feel like I am being graded… gee… did I get a 50%, 70% ?

    But it is good of you to decide what is right and wrong as opposed to with whom you agree or disagree.

  19. Jack Says:

    evelyn,
    I’m rubber, you’re glue. Words bounce off me and stick on you.

    Can we stop with you thumbing your nose? Remember, the internet is a big place.

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