Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Government Information

My friend Rodger Beimer and I were talking about the future role of Public Information Officers who work for government agencies this morning. What happens to them when newspapers cease to exist? Who picks up the news releases for publication? Some of these releases offer valuable information on programs and policy and have been traditionally used by print media as a starting point for stories. Of course, you will still have many web sites and blogs that will carry this stuff, but mostly it will be spread out and dissemination to the public will be splintered. Forget TV News....they are not set up to do it.

Right now a couple of things should happen.

  1. Governments need central websites that do nothing but run these news releases. All in one place and not spread over umpteen departments websites. This will make it much easier to track information.
  2. Some enterprising out of work journalist should design a site that takes those news releases and separates the wheat from the chaff. We all know many news releases just exist to get some one’s name in print.

Actually, this should all be done whether we lose our daily newspapers or not. It is kind of surprising it hasn’t been done before.

1 comment:

Preston L. Bannister said...

Good question to raise, but the answer is dead easy. You are looking at it!

Public Information Officers should post every press release to a public weblog (without exception). That is all we need.

Weblogs (or "blogs") automatically generate "feeds" (RSS/Atom feeds) that can be read by any of many commonly available "feed readers" (of which Google Reader is one example). Public weblogs also get indexed by search engines like Google.

Setting up weblog software is dead easy (or you can use a public site like Blogger), so no especial expertise is required. A slightly more enterprising Public Information Officer can tag postings by topic areas. Some weblog software (though apparently not Blogger) can generate feeds for each tag - which makes it easy to get updates only on topics that match your interest.

To software guys (like myself), RSS/Atom feeds are key to doing all sorts of interesting things.

No need for a central website. As long as a weblog is public, that is all we need. No need for extensive upfront planning (which could slow things down quite a lot). In fact, encourage every government employee who wants to keep a weblog (no telling who will prove the best writers).

The central site can come later (if needed), and can automatically aggregrate existing weblogs of government employees (this is easy to do, without any prior planning).

Weblogs and feed readers are two halves of an equation that form a complete solution (much as newspapers were once a solution), and getting started is easy.