Political blogs, like other party comms, require oversight

A guest post from Jacob Quinn, first posted on his blog, Life and Politics.

What is the point of having a media unit if they cannot filter and influence what messaging makes its way into the public from your organisation? This is a question that political parties need to ask themselves when deciding on how to manage their MP’s media releases, blog posts and media interviews.

It is common practice for media staff, most of whom are ex-journalists or at least have developed understandings of how media works and how issues will likely play out, to coordinate interviews and press releases.  So why would you leave them out of having input to (and more importantly, oversight of) a party political blog, that you’ve set up to communicate political messages and to engage with interested voters and journalists.

Today’s blog post by Labour MP Raymond Huo, and a couple of other noteworthy examples from 2011, are examples of well-meaning but ultimately counterproductive pieces of political communication, that, had they been put under the nose of a press secretary, would have stayed in the drafts column, never to see the light of day.

This is why you pay press secretaries. Even if you are an award-winning writer or a former journalist yourself, you cannot keep your political antennae on 24/7 – especially in the wake of a personal attack or when reacting to something that you feel particularly emotionally charged about.

In the heat of the moment you lose your cool and write something that turns out sounding silly. It hits the press, you are embarrassed, your colleagues are embarrassed, and then your leader has to have a quite stern word with you. Now you wish you’d run it past someone in the media unit.

I am of the view that to minimize the risk of embarrassing or counter-productive communications working their way into the public domain political parties must include their communications staffers in all external political communications, including blog posts. Press officers tend to be available (almost) 24 hours a day, they have smart phones, and the sign-off processes needn’t be overly cumbersome or bureaucratic.

Political party blogs like what Labour and the Greens have are incredible useful communications tools. Conversely, blogs which consists of newsletter links and rehashed press releases are not worth the $25 a year it costs to register the domain name.  Labour and the Greens should be commended for running real blogs, with real opinions on current issues, but they are foolish if they don’t bring these tools within their broader communications strategies and oversight mechanisms.

2 thoughts on “Political blogs, like other party comms, require oversight”

  1. If they were to bring it within their centralised media team it would become exactly the same as the National Party’s useless blog attempt which no one will read. It seems to me the point of Red Alert is an ability to communicate with MPs about their real opinions rather than communicating with a party media machine that sees all of our other publications also unread (although very much liked by journalists). The blog may be better from a PR standpoint if it didn’t have those occasional weird blogs yes but all the other posts wouldn’t get read if it began to look like a new form of press statements.

  2. Re “new form of press releases” – that’s not what I’m advocating. I’m simply saying that it’s foolish to leave an important information channel without any checks and balances whatsoever. One solution, for instance, would be to have all blog posts posted with a short time delay, say 2 or 3 hours. This would provide an opportunity for the RedAlert monitors (Trevor, Chris, Clare, Grant etc) to have a quick peak at their colleagues work before it goes live. If the alarm bells go off, it could be stopped or amended. That process would, you would like to assume, have avoided Raymond’s post, and perhaps Darien’s where she criticised the mad butcher.

    It doesn’t necessarily need to me the press secretaries who have the oversight, it could be other MPs. The reason why I like the idea of press secretaries having a role, is that it removes the issues of MPs getting off side with each other because of disagreements about blog posts. Press sec’s can just say “it is my opinion as a media professional that his post will not run well for you and the party”. The MP can do with that information what they please.

    I am not advocating censorship of MPs. I am advocating a system quality control, or at least, a system where red flags can be raised before the “post” button is hit.

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