Full text of City Manager Chris Murray's formal response to last week's Joint Statement on local media access.
By RTH Staff
Published June 09, 2011
Recently, the City of Hamilton received feedback to potential revisions to our Corporate Media Relations Policy. The direct comments were received through the communication of a "Joint Statement on Local Media Access", sponsored by a number of Hamilton's local independent media, citizen journalists, independent bloggers and community organizers (i.e. online media).
This statement highlights several issues, including the:
Timeliness and importance of updating our current policy in order to formally clarify how we will respond to online and other social media inquiries;
Opportunity to better understand our stakeholders (engaged citizens and online media);
Importance of clarifying where we are going as a City with regard to citizen/public engagement;
Need to better communicate and enhance Council Chamber meeting decorum; and
Call to review and define City Hall's press gallery.
Not all of the above fits neatly under the umbrella of "Media Relations". Although media relations play a significant role in citizen engagement by helping with the flow of information, it is not the only tool that City staff use to engage the public.
It is recognized that social media tools such as Twitter can be used as both a vehicle to send out information like a standard media release, but also to engage the general public by receiving input and feedback, as well as acting as a customer service tool to respond to, track, and measure concerns and outcomes.
No different than any other mediums, we need to communicate, collect feedback, and respond in a clear and meaningful way via all tools. To do this there needs to be guidelines in place and, most important, we need to manage expectations and relationships.
Over the last year we have seen an increase of new media, including digital media, as well as a moderate increase in the number of inquiries City staff receive from such outlets. And, with the ever expanding reach of digital media as well as an interest in our market from mainstream outlets such as the CBC, we expect this trend to continue.
These changes indicate a real need for a review of our current and related policies and protocols.
Currently, the City of Hamilton has a Media Relations Policy that dates back to 2005, but staff have kept current to media trends by creating a Social Media Policy for staff that complements and references the Media Relations Policy.
The development of the current Social Media Policy incorporates best practices from various municipalities. The Social Media Policy acknowledges this medium as both a communications and community engagement tool and provides guidelines for staff's use of these tools as well as the protocols for responding.
This policy notes that a response to an inquiry from a recognized and moderated online outlet is only to be done by an approved media spokesperson. It also recognizes the need to properly manage the resources required to effectively and responsibly respond to and/or manage these tools.
Even though the Social Media Policy has only been in existence for just over a year, it has already been revised by the Strategic Communications Team and is expected to be reviewed by Senior Management Team (SMT) this summer.
The recommendation was to bring this revised policy, along with the current Media Relations Policy, to SMT for their review and to determine if these two policies should be consolidated, and then following this review to bring the revised policy (or policies) back to Council in the fall.
Both the Media Relations and Social Media Policies will be reviewed and revised by staff. The review will include another look at best practices across other municipalities, feedback from staff as well as current media contacts (i.e. our DL - News Media List), local independent media, and other online media.
This policy, along with the Media Relations Policy, will be reviewed by the Senior Management Team (SMT) in the summer, and once approved come to Council in the fall. It will include an implementation plan that will highlight any changes or additions that impact media or our citizens and it will be highlighted and communicated extensively.
As the lead of this process, all comments and feedback can go directly to Debbie Spence, Communications Officer via email at Debbie.Spence@hamilton.ca.