Friday, April 14, 2017

City's exclusives, diminish appearances of transparency

One gets the feeling that perhaps Mayor Lee Brain might have some fond memories from delivering newspapers in the community as a youth. Such is his apparent fondness for the local weekly paper, that it has become the City's go to choice to get Council's talking points out when the time comes for sharing information related to ongoing civic efforts.

So intertwined are the weekly and the city, that the Mayor appears to take some pride in delivering exclusives to the paper, seemingly leaving the journalists from the remaining media options of CBC Radio, TV7 and CFNR to digitally stand at the foot of the stairs to City Hall ...  all in the hope that the Mayor and Council may toss them a few news worthy crumbs from time to time.

The most recent example of what seems to be the growing theme of exclusives to the paper came this week with news of Pembina pipelines interest in Watson Island.  A story which the City seems to have delivered to the Northern View even before Pembina had released their public announcement and well in advance of the city's own information statement.

The original story of Monday afternoon, courtesy of publisher Todd Hamilton, and assisted by Quinn Bender came complete with the "Breaking News" banner atop the Northern View masthead, their "scoop" triumphed through the Northern View twitter feed at 5:35 on Monday evening.

However by the light of Tuesday morning that account had received a bit of a re-write, with Kevin Campbell's byline taking possession of the theme, with the contributions of Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Bender relegated to the "with files from" category.

Mayor Brain even made note of this "exclusive" to the weekly paper  on his Facebook page, a social media stream that at times seems to double as a repeater station for all of the Northern View's material.

Mayor Brain's suggestion to check out the exclusive perhaps offering an indication that his earlier feud with the paper's publisher was now over and all was well again between the mayor's office and that of the publisher.

The Mayor however is not alone in the Council chamber when it comes to this growing state of smitten with the local paper. Councillor Blair Mirau also shares the word of their work through his Facebook page and twitter feed as often as he can, particularly when the paper puts out a favourable story towards some civic initiative or another.

Now don't get us wrong here, there is absolutely nothing wrong with showcasing someones work as long as you provide the props in the way of attribution, in fact it's a theme we adhere to frequently here on the blog.

Both members of Council are clearly allowed to give a shout out through the new megaphone of social media to whatever stories they find of interest, from whatever source that they may find them.

But where the city's council collective is wading into some choppy waters comes towards the concept of providing for transparency in information on key elements of Civic policy, particularly when as a Council, they decide to favour one particular organization, over others that serve the community.

Clearly both the Mayor and Councillor Mirau find much to enjoy from the reviews of City Hall, perhaps owing to the frequent absence of inconvenient questions when it comes to many areas of civic governance that are found from their fave publication.

However, when it comes to official information, providing an exclusive to only one select organization, or limiting the scope of information to others, doesn't offer much towards the goal of full and open communication.

Then again when it comes to areas of transparency and accountability, this current Council does seem to be the author of some of its own problems of late.

One only has to look at the optics related to the recent cancellation of a pair of public council sessions this year, with the two meetings taken off the calendar only three months into the year.

One of those cancelled sessions featured one of the few opportunities for the public to ask questions of their elected members. Though, when it comes to hearing from the public, sometimes those public comment sessions do make for a few uncomfortable moments.

Still those two cancelled public sessions, which are normally broadcast over Channel 10 and online, were dismissed with little explanation other than a short notice posted to the city website.

A growing theme as well of late, seems to find much of this Council's work being conducted outside of the public council sessions, or at least those that council finds the time to attend.

The use of Closed Council meetings is currently keeping a pretty strong pace with the Open ones, and the Public sessions for the most part don't last very long anyways, with Council having kept the majority of this years public gatherings to under forty two minutes.

That is providing for a situation where it seems that more and more information is now delivered to the public with the preamble from the Corporate Administrator stating that "Council is releasing information from a closed session ..."

Other major Council initiatives seem to get announced first through the Mayor's Facebook page, with few of those items ever becoming part of a lager discussion at the public sessions and with little contribution to the themes from the remainder of the elected council members.

Shifting the flow of information to a social media stream, or choosing which organization will get the exclusive details to a  major issue doesn't do much to indicate to the public that there is any real dedication towards full and open communication.

A helpful rule of thumb for Council members to consider for the future perhaps, might be one that notes, that transparent and accountable government is not likely to best served through the delivery of "exclusives".

In what is a rather competitive news business, no one should expect the paper to turn down a City Council exclusive, or that they should be the ones to suggest the obvious to Council members, that the city really should share their news scoops in an equal fashion with all of the city's media.

However, the fact that city council members seem quite content to send their "political spin" off to the Fraser Street press room first and to do so in an exclusive fashion, should perhaps provide a pause for a moment for the folks taking down the details. Offering the opportunity to consider how the public may view the work of the paper when it comes to the idea of being an independent voice.

By evolving into what has become in effect the information stream for the City of Public Relations, er, we mean City of Prince Rupert, the lines seem to becoming somewhat blurred between journalism and the waving of pom poms for every civic pronouncement.

If the Northern View had a crossword puzzle, this would be the point where the clue would say: a ten letter word, that best describes the spreading of doctrine, or publicizing a particular political cause or point of view.

Bonus hint for those playing at home, the word starts with a P

1 comment:

  1. This is really about Mayor Lee Brain's love of self promotion. Public information is treated as private information exclusively available through his preferred media.