Censorship – will they ever learn…?

Why are we having this discussion in a public forum?”

This is a statement I have read so many times over the last number of months and years on a number of Rotary related Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn pages and even in the comments section in RotaryBlogger.co.uk.

We are having these discussions because that’s the way things are done now-a-days; it’s called social media.

You see, increasingly I struggling to understand why so many of those in the Rotary Establishment fail to recognise that we are living in a new world of media where everybody with access to the internet has the ability to become a roving reporter; with a voice; an audience; an opinion; a right to be heard and a plethora of fora from which to report or broadcast.

So why then is it that Rotary as an organisation seems to be continually missing this point?

I am sure there are many of those in high office (and perhaps even some Regular-Rots) would have this blog censored – in fact, I am sure there are some who would rather it went further and that RotaryBlogger.co.uk didn’t actually exist – far less being censored. But it is here, and it’s purpose over the years has always been to encourage open, two-way thinking and discussions about some of the points which I believe are impacting on the success of this organisation, particularly in Great Britain and Ireland. Like many other publications out there around these islands.

“The only valid censorship of ideas is the right of people not to listen” (Tommy Smothers)

One such publication was a newsletter for one of the Districts in RotaryGBI – which just happens to be the District in which I am a member of the Rotary eClub of East Anglia.

Rodney Howell has been Editor of a District Newsletter which has been a well put-together online communication circulated to members in District 1080 and beyond. Like many other District newsletters, the 1080 version has covered all the usual internal affairs of interest to its Regular-Rots. However, in addition the Editor has also reported on some of the wider RotaryGBI and Rotary International issues which he thought would be of interest to his readers.

Now, like RotaryBlogger.co.uk – I am sure the 1080 News, under Howell’s Editorship has, at times been a thorn in the foot of the RotaryGBI elephant throughout its publication lifespan. However, this blog has never been subject to discussion at the General Council meeting (well at least not formally) whereas the 1080 News actually does have that very special ‘badge of honour’. It is understood that concern was expressed regarding the content contained within the newsletter and the way in which the Editor was conducting business – and that both should be pulled in line. A request it would appear resisted by this year’s DG Derek Rothwell.

However, now it seems that incoming District Governor Robert Lovick has taken a different position and decided to grab his District’s newsletter by the proverbials and RotaryBlogger.co.uk understands the incoming boss has taken the decision to have the final say on what will and will not be published in the newsletter.

Surely this usurps the role of an Editor?

It’s interesting that right at the same time this four-way-test fracas is happening in District 1080, it is against a publicised backdrop by the RotaryGBI National Magazine’s new Editor Dave King, who is quoted in the last edition of the magazine:

I don’t edit by committee. I never have done in my 35 years as a journalist.”

Needless-to-say back in District 1080, Howell has taken a decision not to continue as Editor of what he describes as a “modified version of the current product.” Due to the fact that to do so he would have had to agree to the conditions, “that [the newsletter] contained only news originating within, and about the activities of, (sic) our District” and that everything published in the newsletter was to be “subject to the District Governor’s non-negotiable veto.”

The Editor signs off by saying, “Since I do not like to undertake a project that I know I cannot fully deliver and because I did not want to enter into anything that I knew in my heart of hearts was going to end in tears at an inconvenient time, I informed our District Governor Elect Robert Lovick that I would not be able to take part in this vision…

RotaryBlogger.co.uk tried to contact the incoming Governor of District 1080 to offer him an opportunity to clarify and elaborate on this ‘vision’ but received no response to the contacts made.

It seems a great pity that another Rotary publication that looked to report accurately to the membership – albeit sometimes in a challenge to the establishment – will now cease as a result of what appears to be ‘Rotary establishment censorship’. The like of which (in his own words) clearly wouldn’t happen to the national magazine Editor – so why should it apply to the Editor of a District newsletter?

The members of District 1080 and beyond are now, it seems to receive a vanilla flavoured circular that will no doubt move towards a self-aggrandising newsletter full of ‘grip and grins’, bling and cheque presentations.

As far as grasping and understanding how the modern world of social media and online communication works, Rotary seems to be stuck in an analogue rut in a fast-moving digital highway.

Those in Rotary who believe they can censor the online world of communication and discussion are clearly deluded

I have said before in this blog, that those who think they can control the messaging on social media; on blogs like RotaryBlogger.co.uk and other online platforms continue to delude themselves. The world is changing at a rate which Rotary appears unable to keep up – a world of 24-hour news and communications; a world where the individual on the street is now able to broadcast quite literally to billions of people around the world via a device they can keep in their pocket and a world where average people are able to speak directly to the Leader of the Free world in only 140 characters – and genuinely expect a reply.

So instead of trying to censor those trying to keep Regular Rots informed; instead of asking the question, “Why are we doing this in a public forum?” why don’t we focus on having those “uncomfortable conversations” within the organisation – and coming to some positive outcomes that are then implemented and not just done as a tick in the box to silence “The Mavericks*”.

In concluding, let’s give the last word of this blog to Dave King, Editor of that national RotaryGBI Magazine, who in the same response above referred to Lord Diplock summing up a case involving Lord Silkin and Beaverbrook Newspapers in the 1950’s saying:

The basis of our public life is that the crank and the enthusiast can say what he honestly believes, just as much as a reasonable man or woman.”

Perhaps some of those in Rotary in positions of influence either now, next year or in the future, and who think they understand modern communications should heed Lord Diplock’s words – and take a moment of reflection. Those words are every bit as important today as they were over half a century ago…perhaps even more so.


*(Remember the meeting of the great and the good summoned to Alcester earlier this year where they were giving the opportunity to “Fix Rotary in only Eight Minutes“…? What exactly was the result of that meeting other than allowing some existing egos to get bigger than they already were? Maybe we should keep pressing for the outcomes – as despite ongoing questions RotaryBlogger.co.uk certainly hasn’t come to any further conclusions about what that meeting achieved…


Images in order of appearance by Ben Raynal and thatguygil  by CC


Say “Cheese”…

So I am delighted to have been invited by Rotary District 1010 Governor Mike Halley to speak to their District today (Sunday) In Perth, Scotland about increasing the publicity in the press and media across their many Clubs. The District boss has asked me to make special reference to taking press photos – which as regular readers of this blog will know is one the many ‘bees’ I keep in my bonnet.

Therefore on the basis I have been working on Rotary research this weekend, I thought I’d turn the information I am going to be speaking to into this weekend’s blog.

So in preparation for the presentation to the Regular Rots in the largest District in RotaryGBI I undertook a fairly thorough search of the words ‘Rotary Clubs‘ and ‘Rotary Presentations‘ on Google images and, having trawled through literally thousands of images it appears the message is still not getting to Clubs in terms of how to positively present the organisation in and around the media. So it seems that the leadership in District 1010 is not only proactive but also frankly right to raise the issue once again – and therefore so should many others.


It seems that despite all the information available and the training offered by District Marketing and PR Officers the message is still not getting through in terms of media photos

Flipping through Google images I was effectively tripping over line-up after line-up of besuited men in ties and Rotary pins smiling into the camera as if recreating their primary school photo (obviously – and thankfully minus the shorts).

Then there was the competition to see how many cheque presentations (with regular, standard sized cheques) from Club Presidents Google images was willing to accept. Still so many photos of one man handing another man a piece of paper – with the picture telling you nothing other than the men (again, generally in suits and ties) like to haggle over a little rectangle of paper.

We then have the mandatory plethora of ‘grip and grin‘ photos – where we effectively have two grown men stage-managed to hold hands while they stare down the barrel of the camera pointed at them all in the name of Rotary. The point of which is…hmmm…well, erm to be honest…I don’t actually know?

I understand when Barack Obama stands on the steps of 10 Downing Street and poses in a similar stance with David Cameron – as that reflects the friendship, bond and camaraderie between both countries. But having the Rotary Club El Presidente shaking hands with the local butcher doesn’t quite have the same effect when it happens at the front door of the local hotel.

But the big one – and still the out and out winner – is the number of photos where the President absolutely has to, without question wear his bling! Whether rightly or wrongly in contextual terms of the photo – you’ll generally find one of the men with the big gold and shiny medallion slung around his neck. Every opportunity, there it is swinging there on his chest…I’m sure some Presidents would even insist on wearing it if they were doing a Swimarathon photoshoot in their speedos!

What is it with the necessity to wear ‘bling’ in every photo opportunity?

If you check out some of the Rotary images searches, there’s more jewellery on show than you’d find in a Cartier retailer outlet. Why? Is it because they’re President and they should wear the bling at every opportunity? Or could they just be proud to wear the jewel of office? There are likely to be many answers – but in terms of a press photo shoot – there really needs to be serious consideration as to whether the regalia is required – and my advice would be – in most cases, it’s probably not!

Just as bad as the bling is the fluorescent hi-viz tabards and waistcoats? Yes, I get the fact that they are emblazoned with the Rotary Wheel; but there are so many other ways of getting the brand image into a Club’s publicity. Strangely, when doing the Google news search – loads of images of Rotarians in hi-viz came up, and to be frankly truthful they just looked like a line of local authority workers having their photo taken by the side of the road.

Rotary is more than just hi-vis traffic management operatives – so let’s ditch the fluorescent tops and get a bit more catwalk than Council.

Taking all this into account, it poses a few questions. Surely all the great work by District Marketing and PR Chairs can’t have been for nothing? It cannot be the case that they haven’t actually advised their Clubs that these inane photos are less likely to be used in the press while at the same time are not representing the wonderful organisation that is Rotary particularly well. There is enough information out there from RotaryGBI available to Clubs to ensure their photos are to as high a standard as possible.

It is essential that the quality of photos being published on behalf of Rotary are substantially improved in order to engage the creative minds of various publishers around the country.

So having listened to many newspaper Editors and Photo Editors here is a quick rundown of some of the pointers I will be offering in my presentation today:

  • Think about the story you are trying to tell – and try to let the photo help you to do that;
  • Use a decent resolution image – do not send photos that are blurred or in low resolution;
  • You don’t need a professional photographer just someone who knows what they are doing;
  • You no longer need an expensive camera – modern phones take amazingly high quality images;
  • Think about your location – does it help the story? Make sure the surroundings are not untidy and your subjects don’t have things growing out their head;
  • Do not use grip and grin photos – try to animate the photo using your subjects;
  • No cheque presentations – and if you insist on doing them – use proper large presentation cheques in the photo, but still try and have other things going on in the photo;
  • Understand that grip and grins and cheque presentations will not be printed by some newspapers (as a rule);
  • Use people who are good for the camera and want to be photographed – there’s no use in dragging someone in front of a camera who doesn’t want to be there;
  • Don’t have massive groups of people – in general up to five maximum, unless a large group is essential to tell the story – but still have key individual at the front of the photo (the people in the photo should relate to your text);
  • Think whether the ‘bling’ is absolutely necessary in the photo?
  • Think whether hi-viz tabards are absolutely necessary in the photo? Take them off wherever possible;
  • Have a chat with your local Editor and find out what kind of photos they would like from you – and make sure you do not send the ones that they will not print.

Ultimately the message needs to get out there. Some of the images being used for the organisation leave a great deal to be desired and an awful lot to the imagination of the reader.

Remember if in doubt, just ask – your local editor will be more than happy to have a chat with you about what they need. Remember your photos help promote and sell their paper – so they want good images in it – and if you can supply them to their specification – then all the better.

Images by Michael Broad by CC