Negotiating to stay on the Web: the experience of The Destroyermen
My first post described how an RAF technician in Afghanistan became so concerned about the potential impact of his blog that he decided to close it down. He had been blogging without permission and deleted his blog after senior commanders became aware of its existence.
At the end of the post, I posed a question (or two): why didnâ€™t he keep on blogging with the knowledge of his commanding officer and with an awareness of what he could safely blog about? Did his superiors not encourage him to keep on blogging?
In the United States, the defence establishment appear to be learning how to work with bloggers to keep some popular blogs on the Web even if that does mean bloggers have to alter what they write.
The Destroyermen is a blog which aims:
To deliver an authentic, unvarnished, informative and entertaining account of life aboard a U.S. Navy destroyer, report on USS RUSSELL’s contribution to the Global War on Terror and execution of America’s Maritime Strategy, and provide insight into the character of the American Sailor.
The blog has only been running since March but has already gained a reasonable following. LCDR Chris van Avery, who appears to write most of the posts, did get permission in the first instance to keep the blog and set out some ground rules.
But this hasnâ€™t stopped him from encountering certain difficulties with the military authorities. He recently declared an â€˜operational pauseâ€™ in blogging:
We’ve succeeded in doing something so “out of the box” that there are a few Important Questions that need to be answered with respect to policy and in which direction we should proceedâ€¦I think itâ€™s time to give all the parties involved some breathing room to try and forge a path ahead.
A subsequent post revealed that:
A debate has been simmering at a very high level in the Navy about whether this site constitutes an “official site” or whether it’s a site run by Sailors as private citizens that just happen to all be assigned to a ship.
But Chris van Avery was happy to receive an email from a â€˜Big Fishâ€™ giving him permission to carry on blogging for the time being:
This is a good test case for us all to get smarter … There will be more to follow, but for now, I’ve got your back. Keep running your blog and if questioned, you can state with confidence that COMPACFLT, CHINFO and DOD are aware and approve.
This email hinted that there might be further problems and this proved to be the case when a post entitled â€˜War Beckonsâ€™ was pulled down with the following explanation:
Don’t worry, we haven’t been shut down. We’re just working out the details of a new editorial process that I think will help with the consistency of the product. It’s all part of that “Rules Which Must Be Followed” thing.
And I suppose after all this negotiation between blogger and military hierarchy, does this really remain an â€˜authenticâ€™ and â€˜unvarnishedâ€™ account of life on a U.S. Navy Destroyer. But at least itâ€™s still up and running. For the moment.