Blogging and other new media in government

sashabwheadshot1My attitude about blogs in general may be summed up by the New Yorker cartoon with one dog saying to another: “I had my own blog for a while, but I decided to go back to just pointless, incessant barking.” I try to bark directly at specific issues and only when there’s something to really bark about, but…

Over on Locally Grown and at the Council’s worksession Monday night, Griff Wigley has proposed some new ways to communicate with the public about local government using blogging, Twitter, virtual analogs to the Council open microphone and more.

So, Griff’s suggested that the Mayor and Administrator might identify “the most important items that should be brought to the public’s attention via posting to the Council blog” and then “A City staff person blogs these items and provides background information, including  links to documents on the City web site.”

I like the idea of linking agenda items to relevant documents – that makes doing one’s homework easier.  But what’s the difference between the staff report (already available on-line before meetings) and a blog post?   Tone?  substance?  length?  pictures?

Then Griff proposed the public could comment on each blogged agenda items (and, one imagines, perhaps comment on other comments) and vote in straw polls.   Hmmm.     I can’t decide whether the (purported) increase in participation would be valuable, just suck up time, or actually discourage people from coming to speak at meetings.  I think the Council members all appreciate and value the effort it takes to come to City Hall and speak directly to the Council – it takes time, confidence, and preparation – might we listen more to speakers at meetings (or even individual calls, letters or emails) than to the quick and easy blog comments?

I really don’t have any conclusions on this issue.    New media give us different opportunities to make government accessible, transparent and responsive.   On the other hand, the informality and ease of new media do not fit easily with the need for the Council to act deliberately, as “the Council” and not as individuals, and to create a formal written/recorded public record.

2 Replies to “Blogging and other new media in government”

  1. I love the “incessant barking” analogy… Yes, blog comments can definitely be just that, and most of us are guilty of it at some time. I know I am when there is a subject that I just don’t want to let go of, like Way Park for instance.
    However, I think there needs to be a council discussion of what is QUALITY citizen engagement. Certainly NF’s famous number of Boards and Commissions are just the RIGHT kind of quality of citizen engagement. But there the burden then lies on the council to use that often very professional and free advice wisely, rather than in engaging in adversarial positioning.
    I would tend to agree with you in questioning the value of a blog comment from a citizen as opposed to a personal letter, email, or open mic comment. And I am vehemently opposed to allowing any anonymous comment, whether the real name is protected information to the city or not. I personally have little respect for those who cannot stand behind their words.

    I also question the nature of “efficiency ” in telling those who would comment at open mic to have one representative speak for them. If 20 persons are all just getting up and saying exactly the same thing then a show of hands in the audience can save time for everyone. But there is value in hearing the personal comments of a diverse group on a single subject if it is a complex subject; each will speak of different aspects, and some people are far more effective speakers than others.

    Basically, Democracy requires they be heard, and possibly apologizes for being a messy process.
    To my way of thinking, there has been an excess of jargon in the discussion of citizen engagement/communications, and little truly substantive discussion of the purpose and meaning of this aspect of the polity’s process.

    P.S. cute pic of the dog, but will the other one get equal time?

  2. Betsey, I agreed with some of your points. You mentioned confidence. If a person lacks the confidence to appear and speak in front of the city council and countless other Northfield citizens, does that mean he or she should have less of a voice in Democracy? Could you elaborate on what you meant by that, please?

    -Andy Alt
    Ward 2

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