The Island invented social media

Campbell Webster
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In case you have forgotten, this newspaper you hold in your hand (or the online version you are gazing at) is not all of the news, but often an index of what you already know. For all of our local news outlets are often just the advance scouts, or compilers of the contents page, of what we are all chattering about already.

The importance of this function of our local media is that it can help focus our collective minds on what the important news is.

It gives us the index, but we fill in the rest, especially the sordid bits not suitable for print. For every Islander has a latent career bubbling up inside of them: That of investigative journalist and in many cases, yellow journalist. Prince Edward Island doesn't need sensationalist tabloids: We do that ourselves.

Some name this tendency among us as “gossip,” but it is deeper than that, it is an intense examination of all of those around us. An examination that often leads to moral conclusions, ranging from reasonable to not so much. Our local media gathers the facts, or at least the titles of stories, and some facts. The rest of us investigate further and end up with more facts, explanations, stories, and then we develop the increasingly complex web of who is all connected and why. And finally, we issue our verdicts.

On one level it can make the internet, when it comes to Island news, seem almost superfluous. While larger constituencies, and indeed planet Earth, continue to grapple with the power of social media and public airing of everything online, we have lived this for a good long time. From this perspective, it seems almost silly that a bunch of computers strung together is anything more revelatory than a bunch of Islanders strung together on a street corner. Or on the phone.

This gossip parade, an endless march of probably hundreds of thousands of news gathering conversations that happen on the Island on a minute to minute basis are not all about condemnation and judgment. It can serve many purposes, including tenderness that comes from rounding out the personalities in each of the stories, in appreciating the complete humanity of those in the news.

The shootings in Pleasant Grove on Christmas Day is one such example. While our news outlets offered some basic facts about the events, as did the police, the chitter-chatter patrol of probably thousands of us, filled in the rest.

In a conversation with one of the editors of this newspaper about Pleasant Grove, we quickly descended into who-was-married-to-who in the story, what professions everybody had had, who they were related to, what a great fellow one of the father's of one of people in the story was, etc.

Our exploration and evaluation of the people involved, the friends, or friends of friends that we had connected to the story, the noting of other people who lived in Pleasant Grove who were our pals, all added up to one thing: Filling a decidedly sad story with warmth, a warmth made possible by finding the familiar, even the love that we had connected to the events. And no doubt thousands of other ongoing conversations are accomplishing the same thing. In the end, it probably makes us all a little more likely to just stay close.

For on the Island, as in other small constituencies, there are few isolated Islands with the Island. News stories are not simply lists of the good and bad. They are complete narratives, nuanced narratives, and they are narratives which are never about others. They are always about us.

Chat away.

Campbell Webster is a writer and producer of entertainment events. He can be reached at

Geographic location: Prince Edward Island, Pleasant Grove

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