Thursday, August 07, 2008

CIRM Blog Ban: Reaction From The Agency and Readers

The Monday item about CIRM banning this blog from the news clippings it sends to its directors and staff triggered a modest reaction this week, including a sharply negative one from the agency itself as well as warm endorsements of this website's endeavors.

Some of the reaction was posted directly as a comment on the item itself. Other comments were sent directly to this writer, including two from Don Gibbons, chief communications officer for the $3 billion state program. He is the person who claimed responsibility for excising the California Stem Cell Report from the agency's official clips.

On Monday, Gibbons volunteered the following,
"Using the term 'officially banned' is utter b----s---. We just chose to not use state money to distribute what is freely available on the Web. You should read the Chronicle’s Op/Ed piece this morning on the responsibilities of advocacy 'almost-journalists.'"
On Tuesday, as part of a response to a query on a different subject, Gibbons said,
"I want to reiterate that I think using 'officially banned' is incorrect, and scandalously misleading. It suggests folks here are instructed not to read your blog."
Obviously, CIRM can do whatever it wants regarding the clippings it sends around, but its decisions are officially government action. And the blog is indisputably banned from the clips.

As for Gibbons' assertion that CIRM does not distribute "what is freely available on the Web," nearly all of what CIRM circulates as clippings is freely available on the Web – not just this blog – at least based on the last version of the clips we saw.

The "banned" item also attracted minor attention from other web sites, including Capitol Alert, a news tip service aimed at state Capitol denizens.

Other reaction:
"You must be doing something right"(email from writer who cannot be named).
"If I had to guess, the 'ban' likely has increased your readership dramatically.  When will those bureaucrats ever learn?" (From another person who cannot be identified).
"Your website is vitally important to California taxpayers; I find it to be a balanced and compelling commentary and timely examination of CIRM's operations and the underlying business of the science CIRM was created to pursue." (From an anonymous comment directly on the item.)
Only one negative comment about the blog was received. That was posted directly to the item and agreed with the CIRM ban because the blog is not about "science." As we responded, the blog has never been about primarily about "science," but primarily about public policy. We rarely deal directly with the science of an issue, but rather about the interplay between science and government, not to mention business, academia, politics and public opinion.

Lying at the heart of CIRM is its public nature and public relationships. In many ways it is the quintessential public and political creature. It was created in that most political and public process – an election – through a mechanism (the ballot initiative) that was designed to give the great, unwashed masses the ability to wrest control away from their designated leaders. CIRM is an extraordinary and unique governmental experiment that has had a truly vast impact nationally and beyond. Some see it as a model for possible future endeavors seeking to solve some the intractable problems that plague our society.

California's stem cell research program is worthy of considerable attention, far more than the mainstream media can or will provide. And that is part of the function of this blog. We try to generate more information than can be found in the media or on the CIRM website. We also comment on CIRM and analyze it in a way not possible at most major news outlets, which are hamstrung by standards that are useful but also allow them to be easily manipulated by governmental entities from the White House on down.

Should the CIRM directors and staff be provided the California Stem Cell Report as part of their daily information diet? We think so. However, the spoon-feeding of boards of directors is not an uncommon practice in the world of business. It is also a poor practice that has backfired on more than one major enterprise.

One final note: The San Francisco Chronicle piece cited by Gibbons was written by Dan Gillmor, a former California newspaper columnist and author of the book "We The Media." An advocate of grass-roots journalism, Gillmor wrote in his book,
"We can’t afford, as a society, to limit our choices. We can’t even afford it financially, because Wall Street’s demands on Big Media are dumbing down the product itself."
We asked Gillmor if he had any comment on the CIRM ban. "Fascinating" was his one word response.

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