Moving forward

There is a lot of focus on what the democratization of publishing means for a government of the people, by the people, for the people. For the U.S. Government to move forward requires work in the new media environment to become an accepted operating procedure. In government, though, nothing moves forward without policy.

Policies governing conduct in an official capacity already exist. We should treat working in this new media environment as if it were any other public place. The new media offers the possibility of having government representatives and citizens interacting in a way that may not always be based on official government position. Similar to Industry Day events or other face-to-face government-citizen interaction events, there needs to be a recognition that this type of interaction can occur online in a deliberative, but not authoritative fashion. However, it has been said that perhaps we need less policy. I hesitate to say we need more policy but in a policy driven organization we may have to write a policy to delete policy and then change the policy to allow for less policy.

The laws from which our rules, regulations, and policies were derived were based upon the technology of 1948. Radio had become an effective tool of the U.S. military in educating and informing troops around the world. Transistors had given radio the ability to place-shift, become mobile, and in competition with newspapers. Television was in its infancy and laws were enacted to protect the businesses developing around the emerging broadcast technology.

In the 1970’s there were defining characteristics of each media. In my previous post I alluded to them. Television was the medium of impact. The moving images of the events “at the scene” brought drama and relevance to the stories. Television news evoked an emotional response.

Radio evoked a rational, thinking response. As Orson Welles put it “the theatre of the mind.” Radio had immediacy. Radio news could be brought “as it happens” to anyone with receivers, which by this time had become ubiquitous. Nothing was faster than radio.

Newspapers tapped both thinking and emotion but was defined by depth. The written word has power and newspapers combined that power with the emotional response evoked by photographs that helped to tell the story. In the ’70’s and before, newspapers would, and could, take the time and column inches to flesh out a story.

News was also considered a public service and in keeping with that concept and working to reach the largest audience share in their community it was prudent business practice to work all sides of a story. The allocation of broadcast minutes and column inches was determined by the importance of the story to the community and how many people on all sides of the issues at hand could be reached for comment because, no matter the medium, they were monitizing audience share. i.e.: how many people they could draw and hold to their product. Appealing to the largest number of people in your geographic area was the key.

Newsmakers were the other piece of what Walter Lippmann described as the “triangular relationship” in his book Public Opinion published in 1927. They were the “scene of the action” and usually were held aloof to the public and lesser members of the press. Press credentials, press briefings, granted interviews, etc. were all strategically intertwined to maintain a working relationship between the newsmaker, the press, and the public. For the U.S. Government that relationship had worked well.

But much has changed in this dynamic.

What happens when your story/interview/briefing now doesn’t rise to the level of a “story” for the press? The deregulation of the broadcast industry, the proliferation of cable channels and portable tape players, etc. divided the public’s attention producing a “media hysteria” in the traditional media seeking to have the latest headlines in the ever shrinking media cycle.

Enter now the Internet and the New Media. Caveat lector in this new and expanding global information environment. But also, let the traditional publishers beware. Transparency is needed by both the newsmakers and the news messengers. For the Federal Government, we are now making progress:

Social Media and the Federal Government: Barriers and Solutions
Putting Citizens First
and this from the Washington Post this morning.

Your thoughts?

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Adriel Hampton

Great stuff, Jack. As a former journalist and newer government employee and activist, what excites me most is the opportunities this new media environment allows for connecting, engaging and obtaining buy-in from citizens. Beyond communicating, this type of media is perfect for creating collaboration and purer democracy. Great article by Ms. Graffy as well.

Denise Hill

The situation is that with new media environments, representatives/citizens/folk may need to be reminded of the policies, etc. And….policies need to be adapted likewise. So there will be gaffs while people adapt, whild policies are tailored, while people become familiar with the new policies, while behaviors adjust.

Adriel Hampton

Read the paper on the way home from work today. Very helpful. This kind of pragmatism is going to go a long way to getting things done. Thanks, GovLooper Jeffrey Levy and Web Managers team!

Jack Holt

Thanx Adriel and Denise. I appreciate your comments and yes, Denise, expectations are a very important part of the equation. Expectations also relate to reputation management which is extremely important for a government agency, however, we will all benefit if we become less risk averse when it comes to our communication. As individuals we must also understand our relationship with the organization and that relationship with society.