As the economy continues to sour, the use and proliferation of public relations people to spin the messages of governments and agencies is leaving a bad taste in the mouths of many folks.
When the Boise School District announced layoffs, we had immediate comments and suggestions from GUARDIAN readers about getting rid of the District PR spokesman and staff.
COMPASS recently came under fire when it was revealed they spend more than $120,000 on opinion shapers who in some cases use tax money AGAINST the will of the citizens to wine and dine legislators. Ada Commish Sharon Ullman writes about it on HER BLOG.
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! screams Ameritel Inn’s Chuck Everett over public money spent by the G-BAD boys at the Greater Boise Autitorium District to influence opinions. Everett claims, “Boise Centre on the Grove Manager, Pat Rice, championed a $100,000 expenditure with the Gallatin Group that yielded 6 written documents, 6 meetings, and 31 uneventful e-mails since July of 2007.” The Gallatin Group contract involved, ‘selling the local public on a new Marriott hotel’”. The monthly $5,000 retainer has apparently been terminated after Everett raised a fuss.
Boise City has so many spinmeisters (police, public works, development services, mayor’s office, parks, airport) they call themselves the PIGS–for Public Information Group.
Sadly, the messengers we need–in the local legacy media–are dropping like flies. The Daily Paper is expected to announce cutbacks in staff Monday, leaving us with even fewer reporters at the shrinking Statesman. KBCI-TV has eliminated most of its video people, leaving reporters to shoot their own pictures and edit…with less time to check facts and dig out truth. Channel 12 is often without enough “warm bodies” to chase important local stories.
None of the commercial radio stations offers weekend news coverage and even NPR public radio has mostly students and part timers.
While the GUARDIAN is far from a substitute for local news coverage, we offer a forum for those who have good news instincts and want their fellow citizens to be informed of important issues.
To insure more advertising-free Boise Guardian news, please consider financial support.
Mar 15, 2009, 2:23 pm
If a public agency or shool district lays off a single person before they get rid of ALL of their “flacks” they are showing where their priorities are….in spinning the public…not providing basic service to us the tax payers!
It is long over due that our elected officials quit hiding behind the department flacks and start speaking themselves.
Mar 15, 2009, 4:48 pm
Sharon gets a B for questioning COMPASS’s spending on spinmeisterds.
To get an A, she needs to fire the County’s media flaks.
Mar 15, 2009, 6:11 pm
To Doc: I campaigned on that issue and still believe taxpayers would be better served by cutting the PR Department, but it takes two votes to make it happen.
Mar 15, 2009, 6:27 pm
Between the shrinkage of real media and the expansion of spin media maybe from a workforce perspecive it all evens out? Could the government spinsters perhaps create their own paper or tv station to fill the gap left in declining traditional media? Just kidding….sort of.
Mar 16, 2009, 12:34 am
What if we took away the pretty faces who read cue cards so well; …and find that incompetent, silver-spoon morons populate all levels of government?
How would we feel then? Better to have wonderful words whispered by celebrity Gods methinks…
Mar 16, 2009, 7:03 am
Sharon. Maybe using there names will make them sit back and think about it. If there against it, make it public. They deserve no less.
Mar 16, 2009, 9:14 am
So, you do away with informational brochures, government websites, news releases and public meetings? That’s really what you want? I confess the thought of eliminating non-teacher positions crossed my mind when Dan Hollar appeared on camera announcing the cuts. Certainly public information positions shouldn’t be off limits, but understand that most of the information you get about government is generated by information officers. Their job is to provide you with the correct information about an agency. Without them, you’re relying on whoever answers the phone. That person may or may not be knowledgeable. They may or may not think it’s their job to double check to make sure what they’re telling you is correct. Healthy skepticism about what an information officer tells you is just fine, but it’s ludicrous to assume you’d suddenly get the unalloyed truth from some random agency employee or an agency director if information officers were eliminated.
EDITOR NOTE–Rick makes a good point. However, the issues presented by GUARDIAN readers and Ullman tend to deal with presenting AGENDAS, manipulation of public opinion, “selling” ideas, and soliciting funding. NONE of the readers complain about getting unvarnished information from a reliable source.
Mar 16, 2009, 9:38 am
As voters and tax payers we did not elect nor hire Commissioner’s , Mayor’s, Directors, Heads of School Districts and others to hide behind paid talking heads.
People need to wake up and the people in elected and appointed offices need to stand on their own two feet, look us in the eye and tell us what is happening.
If we wanted a spin doctor or talking head to speak to us we would have asked for one of these people.
Mar 16, 2009, 11:55 am
I doubt three out of ten citizens in Boise could recognize a photo of Dave Bieter. Moreover, I doubt one out of ten would recognize photos of the City Council. Is this just a coincidence? I doubt it! The onset of all these “talking heads” provides another level of insulation between the elected official and the public.
No Rick, I don’t want “whoever answers the phone” spouting policy. I do, however, expect the person elected to represent me to make policy statements and news releases!
Mar 16, 2009, 5:56 pm
“EDITOR NOTE–Rick makes a good point. However, the issues presented by GUARDIAN readers and Ullman tend to deal with presenting AGENDAS, manipulation of public opinion, “selling” ideas, and soliciting funding. NONE of the readers complain about getting unvarnished information from a reliable source.”
In regards to the editors notes, rolling Ms. Ullmans ideals of PR into your response as a point of agreement just lessens your argument. Her disinclination to have either a PR person, nor to answer questions directly herself other than filtered thru her web site is arrogant and you are just enabling her arrogance.
Granted the growth of talking heads surrogating themselves instead of allowing the incumbents to speak freely for themselves is annoying, however no talking head may put his or her agenda ahead of their employer and Ms. Ullman has no problems with putting forth her agendas but has exhibited a complete lack of PR in explaining them.
EDITOR NOTE (2)–Eric, I don’t want to be in a position of defending Ullman–or any politico–but I will bet you a $25 donation to the GUARDIAN you will get timely answer to any phone call or e-mail you care to make.
Mar 16, 2009, 6:54 pm
Do you expect your elected officials to know how to manage a website? To compile information from the many departments and offices within the county and nicely package it in one place for you? How about write press releases and deal with reporters when they aren’t trained in journalism?
Companies of any size have PR or Offices of Information to release information to the public; it’s just efficiency. This is what they do. Policy makers make policies, information specialists disseminate information. These professionals aren’t a waste of taxpayer money, they’re saving it.
This “spin”, as you call it, is just a minor role of many.
Mar 16, 2009, 8:49 pm
Yup! T-Bird that is exactly what I expect! Elected office means someone WANTS to serve. This just comes with the territory. In today’s society, the average 10 year old has the skills you outlined. If someone seeking a high profile elected office or position in the bureaucracy doesn’t have those skills, then they are not qualified for the position.
Now, in response to Eric. You must not have lived here very long. If you had, you would remember how Ullman was “crucified” by the local media with selective sound bytes and out of context quotes. All she has done is learn from history and she is smarter for doing so!
Mar 17, 2009, 12:07 am
Somewhat OT, but given the cutbacks you mention at the Statesman and local TV news, have you considered turning this Web site into a more comprehensive local news source? Certainly the business model to fund such an effort is problematic, but I’m intrigued by talk of using the non-profit structure and soliciting foundation grant money to fund journalistic endeavors. There certainly wouldn’t be any lack of local freelance talent, but without some funding, you get what you pay for.
I think this area needs an alternative, online local news source to replace the dwindling traditional media and I’m just wondering if the Guardian or a spinoff might just be the catalyst for such an enterprise?
EDITOR NOTE–That is why we re offering up the big green DONATE button. With a little “war chest” we can indeed expand coverage. https://boiseguardian.com/2009/03/01/guardian-asks-reader-support-for-citizen-journalists/
Mar 17, 2009, 3:32 pm
Cyclops, I beg to differ. As a long time resident of Idaho I remember well the “bring it on” attitude of Sharon when she first came into office and tried to take a “bite out of government” like Symms promised to do. If you’re going to shoot off the hip as she did you have to expect a bit of comeuppance, and an OK, I’ll bring it on response from the powers that be. A classic example of not having PR in place. Maybe a good spin meister would have prevented her from being a one term wonder, and her lack of PR today dooms her to the same fate.
Mar 17, 2009, 10:58 pm
Eric, you have hit on one of the really cool things about our country. You certainly have the right to differ, and I respect that. However, I don’t really consider the Boise Weekly, or the Idaho Statesman ” the powers that be”. In today’s politically correct climate, we paid fairly heavy bread for some fancy consultant to tell the city/county leaders “they need to play nice”.That is a crock! We need leaders that will tell us the truth and act according to our wishes. Was it the “powers that be” that decided to charge us for a friggin bridge to a private development when the developer decided he wouldn’t build it as he promised? Or when they decided to allow THOUSANDS of new homes to be built in the foothills with no regard to water availability. Or maybe when the mayor stated he wanted growth to occur southeast of the city, and when asked about where the water was coming from, proposed we pump it out of the Snake River? Or maybe when Boise city hall buried the audit of the CCDC that THEY ASKED FOR almost two years ago? If those are the “powers that be” you refer to, then someone damn well better shake them up before they ruin this valley we all love.
Mar 18, 2009, 12:59 am
I don’t buy your theory that a politician loses if they speak candidly to the press, and can’t win if they don’t cater to the press.
The press thrives on controversy. There is no problem with that, unless they stoke their own fire. The Statesman may not have been guilty of that tactic during her previous term, but they have done it before. And, who could blame her if she came to that conclusion.
Paraphrasing, If they burn you once, it’s their fault. If they burn you twice, it’s your own fault. Looks to me like she learned her lesson.
Either way, I am sure the Statesman would agree that, regardless of the issue or the politician, they are no longer needed to the degree they once were. The internet was not the force then that it is now.
To the best of my knowledge, Commissioner Ullman is one of the few, make that the only, politician in Idaho that writes her own copy. Maybe you like her policies, maybe you don’t, but at least you know that you are getting the facts the way she meant them. without the filter of the media, or a handler. To me at least, there is great value in that.
Note to Sharon, keep up the good work and get the two begonias you work with to do the Wright thing and dump the PR guy.
Mar 18, 2009, 7:04 am
Sharon was elected by the voters and was ONE of the “powers that be.” It’s a shame that her straightforward attitude and responsiveness make her a target. Seems to me that she is being quite careful this time around.. both in the relationship with the good ole boys with whom she serves and in her relationship with the press which played gotcha with her last time. And I guarantee that Dave will win the $25 bet. She even responds to me!!
Mar 18, 2009, 9:28 am
I’ll tell you why our politicians can’t be bothered with work. They are mostly VERY wealthy individuals who are totally absorbed in running hedge funds, and large businesses.
They don’t have the time it takes to actually do the job we require of them, so they outsource all functions that smell of work. This clears their schedule for the really important work; passing out goodies to the well connected.
Mar 20, 2009, 5:15 pm
Dave wrote: “Channel 12 is often without enough “warm bodies” to chase important local stories.”
Really! The local TV stations even before the approaching cuts in staff rarely dug out important local stories, so what’s the diff? Their main fare is sex crimes, burglaries, fires, auto accidents, cute kids, and once in a while a so-called heartwarmer about someone doing good to somebody.
The corruption of our bought & paid-for legislators (with a few honest exceptions) is a well-kept TV dirty little secret, unless someone blows it to the point of a putative wide-stance.
This is why I don’t read spin from agencies, and plan on not getting the HDTV box. When analog goes off the air, it’s the internet for me, where I can watch what I want to watch, with a minimum of the ghastly advertising prevalent on network TV.