Council live-blogging, explained | News | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST

Council live-blogging, explained

A sad, sad day for satire.

Sigh: I have to explain myself. That's never an enjoyable task, but it takes on an added degree of annoyance when it doubles up as having to explain satire. Kind of destroys the whole point of it.

But, alas, it's come to this because I find the very success of my live-blogging of council meetings has attracted an audience that, in part, doesn't understand it, or overly analyzes it or just completely misses the point.

To back up: I've been covering municipal governments as a reporter for my entire career, in dozens of cities in two countries. Up until a few years ago, that consisted mostly of sitting in meetings, reviewing documents, interviewing people and writing up short articles after the fact. The life of a reporter.

But then came Twitter.

Suddenly I had access to a technology that allowed me to do something new: I could, more or less in real time, live-blog council meetings. Live-blogging wasn't actually a new thing---people had been live-blogging via web sites for maybe a decade---but Twitter brought that live-blogging to mobile platforms. Moreover, the 140-character-per-post limit introduced constraints that, oddly, like the constraints of formal poetry, opens up a world of artistic possibility, at least in theory. See my council live-blogging at

I certainly wasn't the first person to live-blog on Twitter. Plenty of Americans were doing so before me and here in Canada the indefatigable Kady O'Malley defines the format. But, for reasons which I'll get into in a bit, I think I probably brought a new attitude to the live-blogging; my Twitter feed read part straight reporting, part snark, part humour, part analysis. To be honest, I'm not sure it's added much in terms of journalism, but I've had fun with it, and some people seem to like it, so no big deal. Already this post strikes me as way too much navel-gazing, and that annoys me all over again: it's just Twitter, #FFS.

So why am I writing it? A couple of reasons.

First, I fear I've added to public cynicism. Very often, people say to me, "I don't know how you sit through those morons week after week," or "what a shit show!," like that. To the extent that I've informed these views, I've failed.

See, and I guess I haven't made this clear, but I enjoy council meetings. More than that, I think council meetings are wonderful, I think for the most part councillors and city staff are trying to do right by the people and I think the weekly show is an essential part of what makes our city work.

This is my view of city government: it's messy and necessary. We live in a complex city with lots of different communities, lots of different interests, people from different economic and cultural backgrounds, people with varied, and often changing, opinions. We could ignore that kaleidoscopic diversity and simply place a tyrant in charge; no doubt that would be "efficient," in exactly the same way that Mussolini made the trains run on time, but none of us would want that. It's easy to fault our democracy; as they say, it's the worst system in the world, except for all the others.

I've written about the importance and value of council "bickering" before; I don't get why people so object to it---we've got 400,000 people in HRM; of course their elected representatives are going to express the different opinions in the larger population. That's the entire point of democracy.

Here's something I've learned as a reporter, or maybe just as a human being: people are whacky. Out there in the world, there are tales of unlikely lives, untold heroism, shameful cowardice, fantastically interesting incidents, uplifting principles, disgusting crimes, happy coincidences, sad misfortunes, weird obsessions and, at heart, the daily struggle in this vale of tears. All this plays out at council meetings through the miracle of electoral politics.

Look, none of us likes sentimentality; to turn the wondrous improbability of life into maudlin banality is a crime against humanity. So, the trick is to find another way to celebrate life.

Enter satire.

I think it's true that fiction can speak truths that non-fiction can never approach, that poetry can reveal beauty that eludes the camera, that satire can be more honest than fact-checked journalism. I don't claim any particular skill in this regard, but at best, my council live-blogging is some mixture of all the above. While certainly I have my own passions and biases, I hope that they too are subsumed in a satirical whole that, ultimately, is celebratory, not degrading.

I feel filthy, having explained this. But, let's move on.

The second reason I'm writing this is that, still, all the above explained, people don't understand the basics. So very quickly: All actual quotes are in quotation marks: ["quote"]; anything else is paraphrased, at best, and possibly made up out of whole cloth, so don't cite it as fact without checking with me first, and yes I'm looking at you OpenFile. (Feel free to ask me questions during live-blogging---what a great feature, to have your personal reporter in the room!)

Hmmm, what else? There aren't actually cats being thrown in the room, but there is a very real council chambers mouse. I don't know if Reg Rankin can speak Latin or not. Councillors do check email and scratch armpits when Jennifer Watts speaks. I've never seen shoes flying across the room, but it wouldn't surprise me if it happens. And, for the record: Linda Mosher may or may not be skilled in reading the entrails of goats, but she's never done it at council.

Tim Bousquet is news editor at the Coast. Find him on Twitter at @Tim_Bousquet or via email at [email protected].

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