No News is Bad News

There is a common misconception among some consumers of mass media that news comes in two flavors – “Good” and “Bad.” And while it may be true that some purveyors of news overly sensationalize the gritty tales of corruption, murder and violence, it is also true that those same stories attract more eyeballs, move more newspapers and earn higher ratings than stories about the local 4-H Club’s prize-winning pig at the State Fair. Far from representing a simple prurient interest among consumers, the simple fact of the matter is that the gritty, often unpleasant, stories have a far greater impact on our daily lives. The public wants to know who robbed the bank in Ridgeway. They want to know if the suspect has been captured; and if not, they want to know for whom they should be on the lookout.

The public also wants to know, among other things, how their tax dollars are being spent, what kind of debt their local government is racking up in their names and what their local governments are doing to address economic matters, recreational options and locking down additional sources of potable water.

There is, then, no such thing as “Good News” or “Bad News;” there is simply News – the restatement of facts and public information, structured in a consumable, digestible format. Contrary to what the County Councilman from District 7 suggested at last week’s budget work session, Fairfield County’s local media outlets are, in our professional opinion, doing an excellent job in getting all relevant information about County business out to the public. One may not particularly enjoy certain pieces of that information; one may wish there were more of one thing and less of another; one may even wish that an item that was relegated to page 5 had been given a bigger headline on page 1. But the information is out there, and information it is, completely neutral to the human attributes of Good, Bad or Ugly.

The Councilman’s suggestion that the County publish and distribute its own newsletter would thus seem to be entirely unnecessary, and for a County already under the microscope for spending practices, such an expensive venture would likely only incur more public grumbling. And you can take it from us – sending out anything through the U.S. Mail with any kind of regularity is enormously expensive. Government newsletters are not uncommon, but they are also not what one could call objective. Such devices therefore typically fail to truly inform the public, instead serving only the institution in question.

The public is savvy enough to realize this, and they are smart enough to understand that a local government that starts printing its own news is doing so because the local press – the objective, independent press – is probably asking too many probing questions.

There is little doubt, meanwhile, that Fairfield County has a public relations gap, one that has existed since the wheels fell off their well-oiled machine last summer. The suggestion by the Councilman from District 3 that the County hire a PR person is not entirely a bad idea, albeit nearly 12 months too late. But since any PR director worth his or her salary likely would have suggested a completely different tactic in handling last year’s pornography scandal, the question is would the Council actually listen to their point person and take their advice?

If the answer is Yes, then by all means, when the next budget rolls around hire a good PR person. If the answer is No, then such a hire would simply be throwing good money after bad.

In the meantime, the best thing this Council could do for its public image would be to host a town hall meeting every quarter where some of the questions that linger in the air after nearly every regular Council meeting could be addressed and where Council could engage in an open dialogue with the public.

Such quarterly meetings could go a long way toward trimming away a lot of the anger and frustration that bog down regular meetings, and it would be a heck of a lot cheaper than publishing a newsletter and delivering it to every mail box in Fairfield County.

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