Twitter, Embargoes, and Breaking News

At the end of March, Global Edmonton’s Lynda Steele, one of our city’s most prominent media Twitterers, abruptly said goodbye and deleted her account. She suggested that Global was consolidating accounts, which understandably raised the ire of many local users (for more check out Adam’s post). Last week, a different truth emerged, thanks to a tweet from CBC’s John Archer. He posted this PDF (archive) of a letter sent from the provincial government’s Public Affairs Bureau to Global Edmonton (it has been clicked more than 550 times). In it, PAB Managing Director Lee Funke informs Global Edmonton that for breaking the budget embargo, they would be denied access to any embargoed information until the end of 2010. Lynda was the one who broke the embargo, by posting tweets before the 3:20 PM budget address, so that’s likely why she left Twitter (though there may be other reasons too).

Much has already been written about whether or not the decision is warranted, and even whether or not we need embargoes in this day and age. For more, check out Dave’s post. As someone who continually pushes for open, accessible information, I think you can guess where I stand. And with that in mind, and in addition to the PDF letter above, here are some of the facts.

The four tweets that started all of this, written by @lyndasteele:

BREAKING BUDGET NEWS – Another record deficit, more money for health care and hope for recession recovery. #yeg #ableg [2/9/2010  3:16:44 PM]

The budget deficit for the coming year is projected to be 4.7 billion, almost double what was projected in last year’s budget forecast. [2/9/2010  3:17:08 PM]

Most of the new spending is going to health. 1.7 billion dollars more this year, [2/9/2010  3:17:20 PM]

Edmonton will receive about 100 million dollars less fr province – for Calgary the shortfall could be 150 million. #ableg [2/9/2010  3:17:53 PM]

And then, for whatever reason, she didn’t tweet again until 5:17:01 PM to plug Hugh MacDonald talking about the budget on the Early News.

Her final tweet:

Hey all – Global consolidating twitter…for all your daily news – check out @globaledmonton – take care – it was nice to know ya! [3/31/2010 1:37:41 PM]

It didn’t take long after that was posted for the conversation to get underway. Dozens and dozens of tweets were posted defending Lynda, and asking for more information on the decision. Of course, only a handful of people knew what was really going on, and none of that made it onto Twitter until the letter was posted.

Global Edmonton itself followed up with a tweet a couple of hours later at 3:58 PM:

GM Tim Spelliscy corrects bad scoop. GE is NOT consolidating accounts, not now or ever. Our personalities will continue to Twitter. [3/31/2010 3:58:38 PM]

Shortly afterward, there was a @fakeLyndaSteele account and the conversation continued for a day or two.

Will this affect social media use by the media?

There’s not much to say about the embargo, is there? There were clearly defined rules broken, and as a result Global Edmonton faced consequences. I think you could make a strong case against having embargoes in the first place, but that isn’t going to change what has already happened.

I do think it’s unfortunate that Lynda Steele is no longer on Twitter because of all of this. Not that I thought she was the best or most trustworthy user, but she was a highly visible member of the media experimenting and pushing the boundaries. I hope that this debacle doesn’t turn other members of the media off from exploring further social media use. Instead, I hope this can be used as a case study to learn from.

10 thoughts on “Twitter, Embargoes, and Breaking News

  1. Hey Mack,let’s use this as case study @ yegmediacamp.

    As for the underlying issues, despite disruptive and largely positive nature of new media technologies, there are historic protocols that guide journalistic behavior. We may find them confining now, however they exist and till they change need to be followed.

    Embargo is one, confidentiality and un-named sources another.

    What is curious in this case, if Tim Spelliscy was sincere in his Tweet and there is nothing to suggest he wasn’t, then there was, hindsight is wonderful thing, a simple solution.

    Lynda could have publicly acknowledged her error and apologized. GE could have petitioned to be reinstated, and the onus would then have been back on the Public Affairs Bureau to re-examine its policies in light of the disruptive nature of new media technologies.

    This is wonderful opportunity to start a discussion that can create a change. Wonder if the Public Affairs Bureau would be part of that discussion at yegmediacamp?

  2. Nevermind that it was apparently CBC that broke the embargo by 3 hours last year. Four minutes vs three hours. Does that make a difference? And again, brought up by a very wise Twitter personality and familiar face in the media, “You know what they say about people who live in glass houses……”

  3. Facts, please.
    CBC broke the embargo in 2008. The issue of “three hours” is irrelevant no matter how inaccurate it might be. Nothing went to air or was published before it should have been. Budget info was shared with one person in an effort to line up a post-release interview. The CBC has never argued that this was a breach – it was…and punishment was administered by the GOA PAB.

  4. Good write-up Mack.

    My only comment is that I can clearly see the need for the embargo, and strictly because of the impact on public markets trading in government bonds, oil and gas, and of course public companies who rely on these such things.

    The market must have all information released consistently, and at the exact same time, so everyone is dealing with the same information. This is identical to a process that pubco’s must follow when releasing information.

    My two cents.

  5. I understand the logic there Chris – the financial markets are indeed affected. I guess part of me just can’t help feeling that perhaps that’s an opportunity to change things, rather than to remain set in old ways. What that change would look like however, I have no idea.

    Now the “media markets” on other hand…

  6. Chris is bang-on with the reason there are embargoes for government budgets across the country.

    The federal Liberals were investigated when word leaked on income trusts before Ralph Goodale’s budget.

    The embargo also offers media (whether traditional or new) to pour over those documents, talk to finance department staff, and all be on the same page when the speech starts. In theory, this should make for a better explained budget, which should help the audiences (us) know what’s being talked about/cut/etc…

    Other than financial stuff that affects the markets though, embargoes are few and far between. I expect fewer of them, or at least less stringent rules, for those that don’t have the possibility of bringing down stocks.

    As for Lynda Steel being a case study at MediaCamp, perhaps the lesson here is that Twitter and all social/online media is the same as turning on your microphone/camera/printing press. It’s different, but still broadcasting.

  7. “In theory, this should make for a better explained budget, which should help the audiences (us) know what’s being talked about/cut/etc”

    In theory, yes. In practice? Not so much.

    This is absolutely one of those instances where the wisdom of the crowd is better than the voice of a few “experts”. I’d rather have a collection of people analyzing the information and sharing the parts they are interested in rather than a couple of people at a media organization who can’t possibly know everything and face the pressures of a deadline trying to do it all.

    The finance thing obviously makes sense given the reality of the day. Trades happen based on information (either the presence of it or the lack of it). Imagine if the budget wasn’t a static thing, that was released on a single day, but rather, was a living document and all the information that goes into it was released over time. Why should the budget be a surprise that happens once a year? I’m not suggesting anything is going to (or perhaps even should) change, I’m just throwing it out there 🙂

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