CHANNEL SHIFT: Picking the right voice to tell the council news story

You know the good thing about listening to different voices? Sometimes you get a different perspective.

That’s certainly true of Adrian Short, a web developer, who has written two excellent posts that comms people really do need to read. The first How to Fix Council News you can read here. It deals with a frustration that very few councils do council news on the web terribly well.

At best it’s a cut and pasted press release.

The second piece from Adrian is a 12 commandments for council news. It’s good thought provoking stuff and like the first post I don’t agree with all of it there’s enough there to think and reflect about.

Here are a few extracts:

Too long, too dull and far too pleased with itself. Little more than an exercise in vanity publishing. Irrelevant to the vast majority of people.

What’s this? 400 words on a benefit fraud case that didn’t even result in a prison sentence, complete with lengthy quotations from the magistrate and the lead councillor.

Now here’s 700 words on an upgrade to the council’s IT system that won’t be noticed by a single resident.

Sadly this useful information is presented, like the rest, in a turgid press release style. Residents are asked to plough through a huge slab of words that’s hard to scan for the essential details. The text is laden with contrived quotations from people no-one knows that rarely do anything more than state the obvious. It finishes without a call to action. It’s a wonder that anyone bothers at all.

There’s more points in the second blog post of commandments:

News is for residents. Press releases are for journalists. Thou shalt mark the distinction and honour it in all thy labours.

Thy reader is not an Editor and does not require his Notes. Likewise, his news shalt end when it ends, not when he espies “ENDS”.

Every comms person should read this stuff. Even if you don’t agree with all of it, it’ll make you think.

What is true is that council news is often steeped in the traditions of print. Many press officers a drawn from newspapers which makes sense as for decades newspapers and the council newsletter have been a prime source of information. The press release is tailored for the newspaper. It has a snappy intro, a quote from the relevant elected member and notes for editors. For newspapers it works. For the web, less so.

What’s needed is one approach for print, a different approach for the web and a different approach for each social media platform.

News is print + web + social media. Each of these needs a different voice.

Trying to bolt one format onto each of those doesn’t work.

So, how long before someone gets hired for their Twitter skills alone rather than their ability to write a press release?

Creative Commons credits

Reading newspaper http://www.flickr.com/photos/garryknight/4659576761/sizes/l/in/photostream/

Newspaper iphone http://www.flickr.com/photos/yjv/4123045194/



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