For the public record

In total, as of last Friday, only three people were out of line with their responses.

It’s impossible to know if there was a direct correlation between the massive social media response to the local ‘No Enbridge’ sign controversy and the rude phone calls the village received, but even if there were, some context is needed.

In total, as of last Friday, only three people were out of line with their responses. Anyone who knows Burns Lake knows that those few calls were absolutely unrepresentative of area residents in general.

The Dogwood Initiative’s Facebook post on the subject had a massive reach. Many took the Dogwood’s post to mean that the sign had to come down immediately.

Were the angry callers into the village motivated by what they read online? It’s impossible to know for sure, but it does go to show that the potential for misunderstanding is enormous when the exponential reach of social media is taken into account.

Did the Dogwood get their facts wrong? The devil is in the details and the semiotics of the situation with the ‘No Enbridge’ sign would make a good thesis topic for a communications student.

The sign doesn’t have to come down unless the store owner is unsuccessful in her own defence against two residents who have complained that the sign is offensive.

Really, all of the confusion could have been avoided with the use of the simple word, ‘might’, as in, ‘the sign might have to come down’.

Reporting on volatile issues is difficult. Readers and those involved are finely tuned to pick up on nuances that affect whatever is closest to their own interests or deeply felt concerns.

Maybe we shouldn’t rely on Facebook posts to get our information, or at least, we should expand our search a bit beyond any one source alone, whether it’s Facebook, the Globe and Mail, or your local Lakes District News. On the other hand, sometimes it seems like there’s only one source on a story, especially in the early days of many social struggles.

This isn’t to disparage social media, but its purpose is to disseminate or share information. Nowhere in the Facebook terms of use does it say you can rely on its users to present a facts based approach to any given issue.

With so-called old media, at least you have a group of men and women who struggle to get the facts straight and out to the public in a timely and informative way.

And you can sue us. That’s another subtle qualifier that should increase your confidence in what the behind-the-scenes old-media workers are up to.

We get it wrong sometimes, but I bet you won’t meet a journalist who doesn’t remember and regret every significant mistake in a story he or she has made. A correction is like a knife through the heart of credibility, and we are nothing if we lose that.

Now, everyone strives to be credible, including the Dogwood and their Facebook page. But that isn’t their reason for being there. They promote a conservationist program and that’s their thing, not local reporting.

To expect them to be a news source for local issues is asking a lot, and is unreasonable. Don’t discount the value of traditional local media. There’s a lot to be said for an accurate and accountable public record of fact.

 

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