Playing Favorites At NASA JPL PAO

Mars lander showed a human side, so fans took 'death' personally, Arizona Star

"What began as a way for people to stay engaged with the mission during its landing over Memorial Day weekend soon morphed into a phenomenon in which those working on educating the public about the mission were posing as the lander itself, responding with a distinct voice and personality. "It certainly evolved," Veronica McGregor, a spokeswomen for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory who crafted the "voice" of Phoenix, said of the lander's online personality. "We really thought that this would be a nice way for people to keep up with the mission, but we didn't expect this kind of response. ... Writing on Gizmodo, McGregor tried to rationalize Phoenix's demise."

Editor's note: I asked Veronica McGregor if she could provide me links to NASA's versions of these articles on Gizmodo. Given that she works for NASA PAO, her writings as part of her PAO activities are in the public domain. Despite several email requests, she never responded to my request for the text - or provided a reason why NASA never linked to these articles she wrote.

Editor's update: After three emails spanning 11 days (with others at NASA PAO cc:ed), and a posting on NASA Watch, Veronica finally replied telling me where the stories I had requested were posted. It would seem that they were added just yesterday since Google has yet to even index them. Yet they were provided (exclusively) to Gizmodo more than a week and a half ago.

Veronica regularly uses her Twitter page in the course of her official NASA PAO duties. In this instance she provides a Wired reporter with some information. In this case she updates people on her other JPL PAO chores. Here, in her official NASA PAO mode, she is promoting a positive story. Here she responds to a media inquiry. Here she tells the LA Times where to find something. And here she corrects an incorrect URL at JPL's website for the extrasolar planet press release last week. And so on.

Veronica allows several space news bloggers and journalists to follow her Twitter page. As such, they are able to get these official NASA PAO responses and updates instantly on their own Twitter feeds and also interact with her for NASA PAO activities. However, Veronica has specifically blocked me from following this Twitter page. As such, some bloggers and journalists are shown favoritism for updates whereas others are not afforded the same level of access to JPL PAO. Despite multiple email requests that she explain why I am blocked or what NASA's criteria is for such action, Veronica has simply refused to respond. Indeed, until today, the website her Twitter page pointed to was NASA JPL.

I am not suggesting that every NASA employee's private Twitter page be forcibly open to anyone to follow. Not at all. Rather, if NASA employees use their Twitter pages - or other social networking sites - as part of their work at NASA (especially PAO!), they cannot decide which taxpayers have access and which ones do not. If NASA employees want to use Twitter for both personal and work-related information dissemination, the answer is simple: get one Twitter page for work, and another for non-work. It only takes a few minutes to do.

This nonresponsiveness and blatant favortism exhibited by NASA JPL PAO's Veronica McGregor is not in the best interests of NASA or the taxpayers who pay its bills.

Additional thoughts

As an American taxpayer, Veronica works for me. She does not get to decide which taxpayers she gives preferential access to for information and which ones she does not. If she wants to Twitter about work issues - as part of her PAO job - fine. If she wants to Twitter about personal stuff - fine. But she cannot mix both and then deny me access to her official work because she has decided to mix it in with her personal stuff. She is *required* to be transparent and to provide services without bias or preference. Period.

Personally, I'd like to see every NASA employee using Twitter and other social networking tools to both spread knowledge and gain input as to how to make things work better. But in so doing, people need to recall that speaking or posting in one's capacity as a NASA employee - even after hours - carries with it some personal and professional responsibilities. With freedom comes responsibility. NASA employees would get all upset if NASA sought to speak on their behalf as individuals. The opposite is true as well.

And to those of you who seem to lack the reading skills to understand what I wrote, let me state emphatically (as I did multiple times on NASA Watch) that I have been Veronica's biggest fan with regard to her Mars Phoenix Twittering and outreach - often to the point where I got a lot of snarky email telling me that Twitter and other tools are useless. Clearly they are not.

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on November 17, 2008 8:49 PM.

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