The Free Lance-Star of Fredericksburg, Va., hopped on a big weather story yesterday evening. Demon winds had ruined a couple of buildings and tousled others in Spotsylvania County’s Four-Mile Fork area, creating some provocative scenes of destruction.
And so people wanted to see and share photographs. At the Free Lance-Star, that’s the bailiwick of Dave Ellis, the paper’s director of photography. Ellis was working with a photographer in the field to prepare a smashing presentation for Fredericksburg.com. They had good material, but it wasn’t all surfacing on the page on account of technical problems. Someone took to the Free Lance-Star’s Facebook page to complain: “No pictures are coming up,” wrote James-Erica Foley.
This being the Internet and all, links to photos from a competitor outlet — primarily Fredericksburg Patch — popped up on the Fredericksburg.com Facebook page. And as they popped up, they disappeared. Comments on the page documented this trail of destruction. Facebooker Vasili Borodin wrote, “There was a link to pics on here ... where did it go??” Then one Leslie Caputo Sanford commented: “Yup.. they deleted mine too ... guess they don’t like the competition....”
Borodin again: “If I wanted to have suppressed info I would have stayed in the Ukraine.”
The link-scrubbing was the work of Ellis, who has the keys to the Free Lance-Star’s Facebook page. He reports frustration not only with the technical troubles bedeviling Fredericksburg.com but also with the caliber of photos that were scoring links on his paper’s page. “Their pictures were crap and ours were good,” says Ellis, who notes, that the posters were “consuming our content and steering people to our competitors.”
If the story ended here, Ellis would come off looking like a webboor, a guy determined to turn back the clock on the info-revolution and to keep people from reaching out to one another. But he staved off such a scenario via this comment on the Facebook thread:
I’ll take the blame for deleting the links. I was looking at it like you wouldn’t sit down in a McDonald’s and eat food from Burger King. My apologies for interrupting the free flow of information. ~ Dave Ellis, Director of Photography
That’s the digital version of the basketball player who raises his hand to acknowledge having committed a foul. Consider, too, that Ellis didn’t have to out himself in such a fashion. When he puts updates on his paper’s Facebook page, his writings generally appear under the handle ”fredericksburg.com.” In this case, though, Ellis felt it was necessary that other Facebookers regard a person behind the link deletions. “I didn’t want to appear as the company,” says Ellis, who started to feel “a little bit bad, like I was being a censor.”
That censorship, says Ellis, applied to about three links altogether, each to the Fredericksburg Patch site. Says Patch spokesperson Janine Iamunno: “I think it was very cool of Mr. Ellis to be fully transparent about what happened here — his kneejerk reaction was understandable, and not everyone would be so frank in copping to it.”