I spoke to the Athens Rotary Club last week about social media and its impact on advertising, journalism and business practices. I pointed out for the Rotarians the new communications specialist at Athens ISD and the two public information officers at TVCC, and said I had been waiting for government agencies to hire journalists to be a bigger part of the community conversation.
Specifically, I think entities like county government and the bigger cities like Athens and Gun Barrel City will hire people to essentially run in-house, online news sites. With the cost of becoming an online publisher so low, it seems like a simple step to me.
Apparently the Nebraska Legislature agrees.
A Nebraska Watchdog story yesterday reported: “The (Nebraska) Unicameral Information Office employs three public information officers — who earn an average of $47,442 per year — who do public relations but also act as journalists, taking photos and writing stories about legislation, just like the free press.”
The story raises the obvious question of bias, which is a legitimate issue. The news and information sites run by government employees are not going to function as watchdogs and are not going to dig out damaging stories about the public officials who hired them.
But it’s like the writer didn’t know that the White House has had its own websites, blogs, social media, photographers and writers for years — or that the Administration’s efforts haven’t stopped the negative press.
Plus, Fox News isn’t going to go on a tear digging up all the feel-good liberal stories and ripping conservatives politicians when needed. And MSNBC is unlikely to point out when Rush Limbaugh makes a good point. … So it isn’t like we can trust major media to be unbiased, either.
And when it comes to community journalism, well our small town newsrooms have been cut back so far that it is already hard to cover everything. If local government is putting out the information on the simple things like proclamations and feature stories, then maybe the community journalist can do a little more watchdog work because as it stands now, there isn’t a whole lot of that happening.
Actually, there’s plenty of normal reporting that isn’t happening and for-profit news organizations are proving on a daily basis that they aren’t really interested in changing that.
The biggest plus, however, with government entering the social media publishing realm is it gives citizens another way to communicate with their elected officials and that’s always a good thing.
So keep your eyes open in Henderson County for the next governmental entity — school district, county or city — to hire a journalist and start publishing.