Monday, 22 April 2013

The Kiss of Death

Regular readers will know that I remain dubious concerning the merits of twitter as a useful medium for conveying much of significance. So it's particularly noteworty that a regular probation tweep, PoOfficer - I hope that's the correct term and not abusive - has decided to start a blog in order not to be constrained by just 142 pesky characters. It's an interesting start and more blogs on a subject dear to my heart can't be bad in my view. 

But what's also interesting is that Sarah Billiald, who speaks for the Chief's, is so impressed, she's going to see if there's scope for frontline probation bloggers to be featured on the official PCA website. Well, I can see why probation management are keen to tap into new media as a way of trying to influence the news and policy agenda, but I have to say it rather misses the point of a blog doesn't it? I'd have thought any whiff of official endorsement is pretty much the kiss of death for a blog. 

We've sort of been here before with the series of posts last year by Zoe Stafford of Greater Manchester Probation Trust and hosted by Russell Webster. Very popular in certain quarters, (Zoe won an award) it came in for quite a bit of stick in others, notably through the prisoner's newspaper Inside Time and a piece entitled 'My Probation Pledge'. I'm in no doubt at all that writing a blog that has any hint of official endorsement is a nightmare scenario, and in my view doomed to failure for one very obvious reason - if it's endorsed it can't say anything seriously 'off message' can it?

The explosion in anonymous blogging by frontline staff in all spheres of endeavour is one of the real joys of the internet and really demonstrates just how inadequate Main Stream Media is fast becoming as a way of finding out what's really going on in the world. If you don't believe me, just make a coffee and set aside an hour or two to browse the stuff featured on the Guerilla Policy website. I'm convinced that sites like this can begin to seriously influence public opinion and hence government policy, precisely because it's spoken from the heart and free of any hint of 'endorsement'.

I started writing this blog back in 2010 because there seemed little out there on the subject. That's still the case, but if you look hard enough, there are nuggets to be found. Take this for instance, 'Advise, Assist and Befriend' a blog by The Enforcer started way back in 2006, but sadly and ominously quiet since March 2012. Mike Guilfoyle, now retired as a probation officer, writes regularly and incisively on the Works for Freedom website about his experiences as a PO in London. I've also enjoyed the reminiscences of an extraOrdinary Life on the helentroy blog which should serve to remind us all that the problems clients experience have remained pretty much the same throughout. 

In these difficult and politically challenging times, we do need more people to write meaningfully about the wonderful and magical world of probation, in order to try and spread the word to a mostly uninformed public. It has to be done carefully though, as none of us would wish to break confidences entrusted to us by clients and generally claiming 'successes' does not come easily to us as a profession, quite rightly in my view. But then 'failures' are often not that either, are they? Just delayed successes, because we never give up. 

According to Russell Webster, there are 325 people tweeting on the subject of probation, many of them officially as senior managers, but I still don't think 142 characters is enough in which to say much that's meaningful.

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  1. TheUrbaneGorilla26 April 2013 at 21:38

    Impressive technology but still no substitute for getting up on your hind legs and braving the Womens Institutes, Luncheon Clubs, Rotarys, Round Tables, Parochial Church Councils, Countrywomen's Guilds and anyone else on the lookout for speakers. They generally start antagonistic, end converted and you often get fed. You do need more than 140 characters though.

    1. Blimey that takes me back! I did quite a few 'talks' in my early days including a scout group. I can still remember being well-prepared for some barracking and trouble generally, but was blown away by the intelligent and reflective questions.

      Not having children of my own, the penny eventually dropped that not all kids are arsey, foul-mouthed and generally troublesome! Probation does take you to particular parts of society that are actually quite atypical.

    2. TheUrbaneGorilla27 April 2013 at 10:34

      Indeed. But why does this now seem to be passe and replaced by limited interest blogs & tweets? You can't beat getting up close and personal with the public to get the message across. It's always fun when someone criticises "do gooders": just ask them if that means that they prefer people who do bad or who do nothing. Always gets a laugh (and probably makes a point).

    3. You know TheUrbaneGorilla I think it's something to do with age! I'm so grumpy - I'm fit to burst!