Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Constituent Relations 101

How a municipality should get along with its constituents.

Memo from Steve Ulibarri, head of public information for Santa Fe County, New Mexico, to all staff and county commissioners:

(With thanks to the Santa Fe New Mexican for doing this story.)

All: As some of you may have noticed, SF County has been coming under much closer scrutiny in the media lately. I receive calls on a daily basis looking for information on stories that focus on investigations seeking to find evidence of mismanagement and scandal. This is not a coincidence. After a KOB-TV news interview yesterday, the reporter told me that he's leaving the station because a new station manager has been brought into boost ratings (KOB has been #2 for the past 18 months). Her new approach: "turn up the crime and negativity." I responded "you mean more death and violence". The reporter said "more scandal and seeking mismanagement, immorality, dirt." He said he didn't have the stomach for it anymore.

The news media (TV, radio, and newspapers) are in business to make money. They make most of their money through advertising revenue. When the economy goes bad, the first place businesses cut expenses is in advertising. So, the news media immediately feel the pinch and competition for scarce advertising dollars becomes fierce. The way to get your share of that advertising revenue is to increase readership/viewers. How do they do that? "Turn up the crime and negativity."

It has already begun and will probably intensify.

To reiterate SF County's policy on media contact: All SF County staff are free to speak to the press, if they choose to. However, it will be that individual speaking and not SF County's official position. No staff member is under any obligation to speak to the media regardless of what they may tell you. SF County is obligated to prove public information and that is one of my main responsibilities — to make sure the public information gets to the public. If you feel uncomfortable speaking with the media or are just busy doing your job, I am here to help. Send the reporters to me and I will immediately get them what they need. Any official County Statement will come thru me to ensure consistency and accuracy of information. If you are contacted by any member of the press, please let me know ASAP.

If you have questions, feel free to ask.


PS SF County is in the midst of working to increase our transparency and access to residents — more on that in the next few months.

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