Quote of the week

“In many ways, political coverage has come to resemble sports reporting.”

How Canadians Communicate IV

Editor’s Corner

If there is one world that has changed dramatically for public servants, it is the world of the government communications leader and officer. When I worked in government communications, the department (and its minister) were in charge, and the job of the “centre” was to coordinate the odd so-called horizontal file.

Now, communications is increasingly centred and managed in the premier’s or the prime minister’s office, with an emphasis on message management and, according to a chapter in a recent book on communications and governance, “risk avoidance, careful communications planning, secrecy and a hesitancy about discussing or even disclosing options.”

From a strictly strategic communications perspective, centralizing communications makes some sense. In an increasingly busy communications world where it is harder and harder to get attention, how much smarter is it to have one single government message rather than multiple ones coming from departments?

The real issue, some would say, is the increasing politicization of these messages.

Technology has made it possible to go over the heads of journalists directly to voters, taxpayers and citizens. Journalists in my day were intermediaries, assessing what was important and offering not just information but analysis to the public.

Who needs them when you can subscribe directly to the Prime Minister’s Twitter account?

There are other reasons suggested for the “disintermediation” of news in a book called How Canadians Communicate IV: Media and Politics, edited by David Taras and Christopher Waddell. In the chapter referenced above, Elly Alboim notes that journalists increasingly see politics as a spectator sport, more interested in whether a story is interesting enough to attract readers or viewers, rather than on whether it is important. Think of how local CBC Radio focuses on crime rather than news that matters…

He also points out that media have “found it commercially rewarding to attack the effectiveness and then the legitimacy of government and its processes,” which in the long run, one might argue, could harm our democratic traditions. How often do we hear media panelists decrying the hassle of elections rather than celebrating them as crucial elements of our democratic processes, however imperfect?

There is much more in this chapter and book focused on the changing interface between government, journalists and citizens – much of it specifically on the digital universe that is reshaping so many of our traditional notions about the media and government.

It is a good read for any public sector communications professional.