GoLocalProv‘s company catchphrases is: “See it. Read it. Share it.” But the often-abrasive tabloid-esque news website doesn’t always make it easy to share – or even see – its content on Twitter. Especially for local reporters.
The scrappy startup that often bends the traditional rules of news reporting blocks at least 17 local journalists on Twitter, including Ian Donnis of Rhode Island Public Radio, Michelle Smith of the Associated Press, Parker Gavigan of NBC10, Ethan Shorey of the Valley Breeze, freelancer Phil Eil, the WPRO station handle, and me.
It’s a mixed bag at the Providence Journal when it comes to being blocked by GoLocal. Reporters Kathy Gregg, Amanda Milkovits, and Madeline List are blocked while Katie Mulvaney, Linda Borg, and Patrick Anderson are not. Editor Alan Rosenberg said he is not blocked. Former ProJo reporter Jackie Tempera, who is blocked, said, “They blocked me before publishing a negative article about me.”
WPRI seems to have the most reporters blocked by GoLocal, including former GoLocal staffer Dan McGowan. Others include Ted Nesi, Kim Kalunian, Tim White, Steph Machado, and Walt Buteau. An ABC6 reporter Alana Cerrone said no one from her newsroom is blocked by GoLocal.
Blocked or not has become a sort of social media parlor game members of the media play from time to time.
When asked why GoLocal blocks so many journalists, publisher Josh Fenton said in an email, “Our business model is driven by readers and viewers coming to our website to watch GoLocal LIVE and read our stories. The site is free and fully accessible — there is no limit to the number of stories, there is no paywall or fees.”
No one I spoke to for this article could figure out how blocking reporters on Twitter would help drive traffic to Fenton’s site. “One news medium blocking Tweets from other news media seems a bit self defeating,” said Linda Levin, a University of Rhode Island emeritus professor of journalism. “No idea,” said UConn journalism professor and former ProJo scribe Mike Stanton, who isn’t blocked.
So I followed up with Fenton, asking, “Wouldn’t allowing reporters to see your content on social media further the goal you spoke of below? Or is there some reason you think it wouldn’t?”
He responded, “We want them to come to our site. Some who are complaining work for news sites that block everyone unless they pay a fee. GoLocal has doesn’t have a paywall.” He stopped responding the my emails after that.
Few journalists wanted to weigh in with their own theories. “I don’t care enough to speculate,” Shorey, of the Valley Breeze, tweeted to me. Bill Rappleye, of NBC10, said he wouldn’t even take the time to check if he was blocked. “I have no idea why they blocked me. I just happened to notice it a few weeks ago. I wasn’t following them, anyway, so…” Milkovits said in a tweet.
But some did offer their thoughts.
“My best guess is: they know what they do is sleazy and unethical, but many non-journos readers aren’t savvy or news-literate or discerning enough to know or care,” said Eil, a former editor of the defunct Providence Phoenix, in a series of tweets. “Blocking all journos — which is a form of hiding in plain sight is a preventative measure against people who see them for what they are — a pathetic & sleazy pseudo-journalistic operation, created & run by a guy w PR & political instincts, not journalistic ones — calling them out.”
A reporter who asked that their name not be used echoed Eil’s sentiment, “I can only assume they’re deeply paranoid and insecure about how they stack up against news outlets that hold to basic journalism ethics. They know they’d be called out publicly.”
Another who asked not to be identified offered a simpler theory. “Josh has a very short fuse and gets peevish about minor things.”