Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Bolaris, Suspensions, and Social Media

I spent the past few days thinking about how I wanted to cover the John Bolaris suspension...or should I say, if I even wanted to cover it.  Over the last couple of years, any sort of local weatherfolk news results in the tweet about the headline itself, sending you off to the appropriate link to get your fill while not delving into things that Don Henley sang about nearly thirty years ago.

This story is a bit tougher...and because it is a higher profile case of a train wreck of "whiskey tango foxtrot" (take the first three letters of each of those words (w, t, and f) and put them side by side to get the full effect) I decided to cover it...if only to tackle it from a different point of view than the salacious.

First off, identity theft stinks and I wouldn't wish it on anyone.   I've worked in the financial related realm for over a decade and have seen how much of a pain in the butt identity theft can money but also in time in cleaning up the mess when people get hit.   Regardless of how it happened to Bolaris or to how he got drugged, it makes for good headline but regardless of how I wouldn't wish identity theft upon anyone.  For every "Bolaris got roofied" story about identity theft there are millions of other identity theft victim stories, many common people who are like you or I, who didn't directly put themselves in the situation to have their information compromised and their finances impacted.

Had Bolaris' story in May merely been the end of the public side of the story, it would have been good for a few yucks ("Do shot" has some catchphrase potential to it) but ultimately Bolaris' story would have drifted away to join other legendary tales of his from Avalon to Sea Isle.   There also could have been a lot of good that came out of Bolaris' shot story...had he chosen to take that path.   Bolaris could have become an advocate about tougher identity theft laws, about consumer protection, things like that.  He could have taken his story to other magazines (not Playboy) and talked about what happened and push some sort of cushy pro-consumer laws if he chose to do so.  He'd look like a good (or at least a better) guy by avoiding the headline chase and choosing to take to and sticking with an adult role to an issue that millions are victimized with annually.

It's hard to find sympathy with Bolaris for going to an adult magazine to talk about the subject...and his personal life.   It's harder to find sympathy when he's spending his time during the suspension talking about it publicly over Twitter in what amounted to a one way conversation with Josh Cornfield, who is an Assistant Editor at the Daily News and made a couple of tweets about the magazine story (you can check them out by clicking on Cornfield's name up above).   Bolaris responded in a big way last night...

It's even harder to find sympathy when he said he'd love to communicate with us but can't...yet still did after the fact.

That interaction with his followers speaks to a greater point.  With the increasing interactive nature of broadcast communications in their use of Facebook and Twitter, the folks we get our forecast from have many more ways to connect with us.  If and when it's used properly, social media is a great tool to increase public identity and help journalists build trust and relationships with their viewers and readers.  I'm a huge proponent in seeing more and more weather forecasters using social media (Facebook, Twitter) to communicate...and not just with a scripted message.   Some of the locals do a great job with using social media to communicate -- Kate Bilo and Sue Serio use Twitter very well and should be lauded for that.

However, if someone goes "rogue" and becomes a loose cannon via Twitter or Facebook, that doesn't help their colleagues and doesn't help the profession.   More important, that interaction that others in the industry provide via social media could become more regulated, controlled, and further boxed in...less social and real, more rigid and stiff.  It would be a shame if the tweets or Facebook posts became more regurgitation of "company line" and less of a reader interaction but it would not surprise me if a station or two put stronger clamps on how social media is used.  We've seen this to an extent with Facebook pages (some TV stations have mandated that their on-air talent migrate from the generic profile most of us have to a page that you can "like" without putting in a friend request).  That isn't a necessarily a dramatic, or bad, shift...but if controls on how journalists personalize their interactions become a bit more of the norm thanks to any future loose cannon moments, it's unfortunate in the end and sorta beats the purpose of "social" media.

This isn't the first time Bolaris has gone rogue in the media over the last year but it certainly could be the last while employed at Fox.  I wouldn't be surprised if his contract is not renewed or if he were ultimately fired.  At some point the cannon can't be loose forever before it does too much damage to the employer's reputation...and the station ultimately needs to save some face and try to build its reputation back up in Philadelphia.