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Resisting the urge to hit ‘send’

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Those who know me, especially those unfortunate enough to receive my emails on a regular basis, will snicker a bit when they see that I am writing today to take politicians to task for sending out inappropriate emails and Tweets.

However, as bad as some of my digital correspondence has been, I’ve never written the kind of profanity-laced tirades that erupted this month from Winnipeg Coun. Ross Eadie and Winnipeg NDP MP Pat Martin. I’ve been verbose (God knows, I’ve done that) and I’ve frequently been uppity, cranky and unnecessarily confrontational. And I’m the kind of person who absolutely insists on sending out the last message, and then gets disappointed when someone won’t email me back. All that having been said, I try avoid two really bad email habits: I never hit "Reply All" to show people how smart or funny I can be; and I never use expletives.

Perhaps it’s the knowledge that all of my internal correspondence could, at some point, be called as evidence in some sort of defamation case. If someone were trying to establish malice on my part, then my decision to toss around a few F-bombs in an email to a colleague could get me, and the newspaper, into a lot of trouble.

Some readers will know all too well that I’m frequently combative when responding to those who email in or post what I consider abusive or mean-spirited comments. Fighting fire with fire is my general philosophy in those moments, although not everyone appreciates the attention. Still, I try to remember that in the digital world, every email, tweet, Facebook entry or comments section post can gain an audience much larger than originally intended.

Martin and Eadie didn’t seem to understand that. Or did they?

My NDP sources indicate that Martin knew what he was getting into when he tweeted a bunch of F-sharps to show his displeasure about the Conservative government’s decision to invoke closure on the budget implementation bill debate. He was upset, and in this digital world, probably knew that a tweet to his 6,100 or so followers would produce some added attention to closure. And it’s pretty unlikely his tweet is going to hurt him at the ballot box in Winnipeg Centre.

Eadie, on the other hand, probably never thought his email would be leaked to the Free Press and thus to a larger audience. Had he thought about the possibility of a wider audience seeing his rant, he might have thought twice. The rationale behind his opposition to a two-storey, four-plex on Scotia Street is not immediately clear. (It’s two storeys high, for goodness sake.) The fact he also lives on Scotia Street makes his rant seem more than a little self-serving. In other words, if there is a more important principle here, Eadie may have buried it under a heap of expletives.

The moral of the story? I’ve often been advised to write the rant, but not send it. That way you get it out of your system, but don’t suffer by actually having anyone read it. Again, those who correspond with me know that I’m rarely successful in following that advice. But I’m getting better. And in that spirit, I make this offer: Pat and Ross, please join me in this campaign to end widely distributed, poorly conceived, angry, cranky, stream-of-consciousness emails and tweets. The folks who love and respect us will be eternally grateful.

-- Dan Lett / The Sausage Factory

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About Dan Lett

Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school.

Despite the fact that he’s originally from Toronto and has a fatal attraction to the Maple Leafs, Winnipeggers let him stay.

In the following years, he has worked at bureaus covering every level of government – from city hall to the national bureau in Ottawa.

He has had bricks thrown at him in riots following the 1995 Quebec referendum, wrote stories that helped in part to free three wrongly convicted men, met Fidel Castro, interviewed three Philippine presidents, crossed several borders in Africa illegally, chased Somali pirates in a Canadian warship and had several guns pointed at him.

In other words, he’s had every experience a journalist could even hope for. He has also been fortunate enough to be a two-time nominee for a National Newspaper Award, winning in 2003 for investigations.

Other awards include the B’Nai Brith National Human Rights Media Award and nominee for the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism.

Now firmly rooted in Winnipeg, Dan visits Toronto often but no longer pines to live there.

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