Spinning the Web

Ric Cantrell, chief deputy of the Utah state Senate, offered his take last month during a panel I moderated at the National Conference of State Legislatures' annual meeting in New Orleans.
by | August 19, 2008

What does it take to run a modern government P.R. and media relations operation?

Ric Cantrell, chief deputy of the Utah state Senate, offered his take last month during a panel I moderated at the National Conference of State Legislatures' annual meeting in New Orleans. Ric spoke in detail about how emerging technologies are changing the way lawmakers in his state communicate with each other, with politically engaged citizens and, more than anything, with the media. From an always-on Web cam in Senate President John Valentine's office to frequent Twitter "tweets" and mobile text messages sent during the legislative session, new tools are quickly replacing the traditional ways of reaching out.

Nothing told that story better than a blurry camera phone image. It's a white board in Ric's office, which shows a checklist that guided him and his staff when setting up news conferences. Here's the full list, reprinted in order:

PRESS CONF

  • PODIUM SETUP
  • E-MAIL (EXTERNAL)
  • E-MAIL (INTERNAL)
  • TEXT MESSAGE x2
  • LIVE STREAM
  • BLOG ANNOUNCE
  • PODCAST
  • BLOG UPDATE
  • FOLLOW UP W/REPORTER
  • PRESS RELEASE?

That's right: The venerable old news release is just a maybe -- and only after the event has already been blogged, text messaged, streamed and podcast.

Whether huge numbers of citizens or reporters are yet logging on for all of this online information is beside the point. Making legislative events and information available in so many formats is a step toward more accessible, on-demand government.

Ric's emphasis on transparency made me think about the Reichstag Building, home to Germany's parliament, or Bundestag. Lawmakers meet in the Berlin building's airy plenary chamber, with floor-to-ceiling windowed walls and a 70-foot high dome of glass and mirrors overheard(right). The Reichstag Building was closed as the country's parliamentary meeting place in 1933 by an arson blaze that gave the Nazi party its opportunity to suspend most civil liberties. Renovated and reopened in 1999, the Reichstag's new see-through halls of power are an intentional reminder of the importance of open deliberation anddecision-making -- whether the public is paying attention or not.

Ric's work in Salt Lake City sends the same message to citizens and government leaders alike -- just by new means.

(Ric Cantrell was one of three speakers at our NCSL panel, "A New Life for Online Government." Here's the video of our 90-minute sessionin the Windows Media video format -- with an unfortunate audio glitch in the recording during the introductions. Ric speaks right after my extended intro. Following Ric's talk about P.R. 2.0, Alabama Homeland Security Director Jim Walker talked about his state's impressive "Virtual Alabama" project and TheSLAgency's  Leigh Rowan spoke about public sector uses of virtual worlds, such as Second Life.)

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