30 October 2014

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Twitter row erupts over councillor who ‘dislikes being quoted’

A Twitter spat has broken out between a regional daily and a local councillor after he emailed the political reporter to say he “disliked” being approached for comment after meetings.

Tim Ridgway, political correspondent for The Argus in Brighton, took to the social networking site after receiving the email sent by councillor Christopher Hawtree, a member of the city’s ruling Green party.

He commented:  “Amused after @chrishawtree sends me email saying he dislikes he asking him for quotes after meetings. Is that not a job of a local cllr?”

But Coun Hawtree responsed that he had a “great dislike” of the reader comments in The Argus and that he preferred to appear in other papers such as the weekly Brighton and Hove Independent or Latest Homes magazine.

A few hours after the first Tweet, Tim took to Twitter again to reveal that he had now been blocked by Councillor Hawtree – despite not engaging in any further discussion – and so was no longer able to contact him through the site.

But the dispute was picked up by readers and a fellow Argus writer, business reporter John Keenan, with some accusing the councillor of being “anti-free speech”.

Coun Hawtree continued to defend his stance, however, claiming Argus readers frequently made “disgusting” comments below stories, citing one reader who he claimed had suggested that all jobless people should be murdered.

He also said he found the New York Times a better read, directing people to a story about the Mayor seeking a ban on styrofoam.

Nobody from The Argus was available for comment. Councillor Hawtree has also been contacted for comment by HTFP but has so far not responded.

15 Comments

  1. GrimNorth

    Ridiculous stance from the councillor – though I can see comments causing issues with getting people to go on record – It is a rare day when they are helpful and insightful. Usually anonymous and cynical to the point of ridicule. Often a trolls’ gallery of the uninformed, bigoted and borderline-psychos of the parish.

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  2. Richard Jones

    How utterly professional of the journalist. A private email opened up to Twitter for a row that other reporters got involved with. A credit to the Argus. Well done.

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  3. Peter J, Sussex

    What so alarming about this story is when the Argus makes any of it’s staff redundant or has a strike the editor refuses to comment!!

    What a joke this once good paper has become.

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  4. Peter J

    Wait until Latest TV arrives……

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  5. Mudlark

    What a tweet!

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  6. The Daily Mess

    To Richard Jones – surely if a councillor, who is by rights answerable to the residents of their area, is refusing to speak to the main news outlet in said area, that should be brought to the public’s attention?,

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  7. Hammer time

    Makes an interesting point though… is there really any value in comments on web stories?
    Seems to mainly be the same people over and over again vying to be the most unpleasant.
    What’s the actual point? Can anyone tell me? And the old ‘it’s interaction’ argument is tosh. It’s actually just a way for people to write horrible things anonymously and get away with it.

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  8. Scribbler

    A Twitter spat, eh? Careful how you say this. What a load of pointless infantile drivel.
    Can’t we have some proper stories rather than this “He said, she said” nonsense on social media sites that management will be no doubt be urging us to boycott in a couple of years’ time?

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  9. Fresh coriander

    You can understand how the councillor feels. And he’s a Green so he’s not going to do the politics side of things very well. Problem for him is that he gets comments published on the argus website and then the usual crowd of creepy crawlies descend with their anonymous online insults. No one likes to read that kind of stuff about themselves. But he’s a councillor so he has to put up with it. By the same token the reporter should dismount from his high horse. Nothing has happened here. Move along please.

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  10. Move on

    So this councillor’s eccentric comment is more important than a proper story? Not what my old news editor would have said. Be happy that you’ve nettled the councillor instead of wasting time and space that ought to be given to real news. And find a councillor who will give you a sensible answer.

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  11. Kendo Nagasaki

    Hammertime: “Makes an interesting point though… is there really any value in comments on web stories? Seems to mainly be the same people over and over again vying to be the most unpleasant.”

    Says someone commenting on a story on the Internet…

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  12. grey haired hack

    Perhaps one way around this is not to enable reader comments on any news stories at all – but save them for one area where readers can let off some steam. In print, that’s known as a letters page I believe….

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  13. Neil Hodge, Nottingham

    The journalist’s tweet infers that it is the job of councillors to give press interviews after a meeting. But actually it isn’t – councillors are there to hold the local authority to account and to ensure that service provision meets the needs of the public. Council meetings should be public and on the record, but there is no requirement for councillors to be interviewed. Journalists have a right to approach elected officials (and anyone else) for comment, but they do not need to provide it.

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  14. GrimNorth

    Well said Neil. Journalists egos, empowered by Twitter followings in the hundreds or thousands, need to be tempered with a dose of reality.
    Too much exposure to the ”all about the image” mainstream politicians, and not the odd grass roots councillor who actually got himself elected to try and make a difference and fight for what he or she believes in. While I believe he should have commented to further his cause, and to not do was foolish, it didn’t warrant this reaction.
    A responsible journalist could have furthered this discussion by talking off record / being briefed about the issue without directly quoting, if there was clarification needed. My memory of council meetings is you often do need to check or gather basic facts required to report accurately and cover all points, but this clearly became a farce.

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  15. Martin, Bristol

    As a cub reporter on a weekly paper, the morning after a long council meeting there would be an email in my inbox from the council leader summarising proceedings i.e. giving her own carefully crafted spin. I wonder if this happens anywhere else and if wet-behind-the-ears trainees read it as gospel.

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  16. Could the great commenting free for all actually make it harder for journalists to do their jobs? | David Higgerson

    [...] According to Holdthefrontpage: Tim Ridgway, political correspondent for The Argus in Brighton, took to the social networking site after receiving the email sent by councillor Christopher Hawtree, a member of the city’s ruling Green party. [...]

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  1. By on March 16, 2013 at 9:14 pm


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