One of the heated debates which took place at the Talk About Local un-conference ’09 – a day designed to bring together hyper-local bloggers from across the country to discuss common issues, problems, share ideas and talk about the future – was how council press officers treat local bloggers.
For example, in Sarah Hartley’s recent article for the Guardian, Stoke Council’s head of PR and communications, Dan Barton, said bloggers were excluded from press breifings and the press table in the council chamber. He said:
Opinion should be encouraged but we do draw a distinction between what is news otherwise we are in danger of de-valuing the role of journalists.
It’s clear one of the issues preventing council’s from including local bloggers in their press invitations is the distinction of who is and who is not considered a journalist. Sarah Hartley explores this further on her personal blog. It is also an issue which popped up on Roy Greenslade’s blogpost this morning. At the conference, those in the debate talked of a possible association, registration or stamp of recognition to make sure council’s could not ignore their presence as a media outlet – a hyper-local alliance. One blogger, for example, said once they had stated on their website, at the prompting of the council, to adhere to the NUJ code of conduct (which they already did) they were taken seriously. Tony Walley from PitsnPots said “Council’s have no right to discriminate between bloggers and traditional media.”
Caroline Beavon’s post of her notes from the session on relationships with councils points out the risk factor for local councils is the wrong tweet or user-generated comment could mean the press officer loses their job. There were also some examples of councils cooperating with bloggers – such as with The Lichfield Blog – and of course, someone did point out (in a hushed voice) the decline of traditional media outlets means council press offices should embrace blogs as soon-to-be their only way of communicating new information.
See Sarah Hartley’s TweetDoc of the entire Talk About Local Un-conference here.
I know that the council where I live (Lewisham in London) has a love hate relationship with the local bloggers. The ones that are filling the hole where local newspapers used to be are in the loop, on the press release list given on the record interviews etc. The ones that are seen as pursuing a decidedly anti-council line are less likely to get the same access. Fair enough in my view.
Thanks for the comment Andrew. It will be a rare local blogger that is big enough to warrant general attention from a council press office. But once you get to neighbourhood level or specific are of interest it may be that there become considerably more influential than the local paper.
I think council comms has yet to sort the best way to approach that.
In Walsall, we have a growing blogging community. Yes, they are on the mailing list for our press releases.
The theory is simple. Go where the debate is.
We also answer questions sent through to us by bloggers. We can’t guarantee a full response in 24 hours but siometimes things take time. That’s no different for the established Print media.
I don’t think we are unique in this and as time goes on more and more will do the same.