Over the last 18 months or so, I’ve been critical of councils which tried to set themselves up in opposition to local newspapers, trying to use their local authority advertising as a way to create propaganda rags which stifled political debate and presented an over-rosy and misleading view of life in their area.
What was lost on the biggest advocates of these publications – primarily in London – was that the public aren’t stupid. They can smell propaganda mile off. A much better solution is to actually try and work with the local newspaper – and other media organisations, be that the BBC or hyperlocal sites – to try and get information out to as many people as possible.
So that’s why I wanted to mention something quite special being done by local councils in the West Midlands.
They’ve been at the forefront of experimenting with Twitter to keep people informed of gritting information. This year, via the hashtag #wmgrit, they are combining their Tweets into one liveblog, powered by Coveritlive.
So far, so what … until you realise that the councils have made the embed code for the liveblog available for anyone to use.
Instantly, they’re making crucial information – winter weather warnings, gritting alerts and so on – accessible to a wider audience.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard of journalists or web editors being told by council press officers “No, you can’t have that, just link to the council website, we want the traffic” which is why something as releasing the embed code to a liveblog is such a good thing to see.
It shows councils doing what they should be doing – making it possible to get information out to as many people as possible, no matter where they’re reading their information online.
We’ve embedded it on the Birmingham Mail website for example.
Dan Slee, of Walsall Council, blogs about the background and evolution of the councils’ use of Twitter to keep people up to date about gritting, and highlights Birmingham City Council press officer Geoff Coleman for the project. Indeed, it’s Geoff’s post on the Birmingham City Council website which includes the embed code for anyone to use. It’s the embed code which is the big thing for me.
It’s proof to me that when it comes to openness in the public sector, it’s as much about state of mind as it is about orders from central government.