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.