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.
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.
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