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This page contains a single entry by Westley Annis published on December 28, 2008 10:50 PM.

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Daily Comet NOT Looking Out for Local Residents

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On December 19, the Daily Comet ran a story about the Lafourche Parish government announcing it was going to give businesses and residents the opportunity to receive local news and information from parish government through an email service. The need was sparked because of comments made following Hurricanes Gustav and Ike about residents who evacuated turning to email to receive news about what is happening back home.

One has to chuckle when reading the story since the very last line in the Comet story reads, "During Gustav and Ike the latest news updates were available at dailycomet.com and houmatoday.com."

It is no surprise to see an editorial appear in the Daily Comet on the following Monday about what a bad idea it is for the parish to even considering doing such a thing. That it is "well-intentioned plan" and "it is severely flawed and could lead to unintended expense and trouble."

Let us just call this editorial what it is: a disguised plea by the Daily Comet to hold on to its small monopoly as a purveyor of news in Lafourche Parish.

Let's look at some of the complaints the Daily Comet has against the parishes new email service:

  • It "will be enormously cumbersome and labor-intensive to maintain."
Actually not. I would assume the parish is going to use what is coming called a listserv program to handle the tasks of maintaining the database of names and sending out the emails. One of the benefits of these programs is that they require very little maintenance, since most of the maintenance is handled by the users themselves.

I personally manage my own listserv, through which I send up to 20 emails a day and the time I spend maintaining the database of members is probably no more than five hours a year. Yes, five hours a year. Most of that is spend reactivating users who stopped receiving the emails because their email boxes were full.

  • The parish has a web site that can be used to post information and users with email can go to the web site just as easily.
Yes and no. During the course of everyday life, when people can use their home or office PCs to access the Internet, yes, the web is very easy to access. In the midst of an evacuation, the picture is very different.

Many of today's new mobile phones allow web access, but they are still very slow and not all web sites are easily viewable on a mobile phone. And, one of my pet peeves, is the difference between pushing and pulling information.

To get information from a web site, I have to pull it down. I have to make the effort to go to the web site and see if there is any new information since the last time I visited the site.

Email is a push technology. It is pushed to me when new information is available, there is no time lag between when the information is posted and when I find out about it. This can be a big factor during an evacuation.

Everyone is hungry for the latest information they can find and seeking it from every source possible. Knowing that the parish will send me information directly via email means I don't have to worry about checking the website to see what was the latest information posted.

  • "The consistently maintained e-mail list will be a public document, available to anyone who requests it."
I will have to defer to the parish District Attorney on this one, but I will also ask, is the email list maintained by the City of Thibodaux a public document? There are many things within the parish government that I'm sure we, the public, are not allowed to see. I'm sure there has to be some way of ensuring no one can get a copy of the parishes list for spam purposes.

For all intents and purposes, I moved to Lafourche Parish on August 28, 2005 from St. Bernard Parish. For those that don't recognize the date, that was the day I left my home in Chalmette to ride out Hurricane Katrina which hit on August 29. Two days later I left for Houston to assist some of clients in moving their New Orleans operations to Houston. While there, I combined three small email lists of clubs and organizations in St. Bernard that I managed into one bigger list, and used the new list to help my friends and neighbors to start sorting out what was happening back home.

The first few days was just checking to see who survived the storm and what part of the country they had evacuated to. Eventually, we were able to start communicating with a parish councilman who was able to let us know what was happening since there was almost no media coverage in St. Bernard.

Today, three and a half-years later, that list is still going strong. Besides using it keep up with the ongoing recovery from Katrina, we used it to stay informed during Hurricane Gustav and Ike. We even added to the email list by posting emergency information to cell phones.

I think Parish President Charlotte Randolph is on the right track with this and the Daily Comet is afraid of losing their monopoly. If necessary, I will offer this to President Randolph right now, I will manage the email list for the parish using my own servers, gratis. That should end all worries the Daily Comet will express openly.

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