New City of Dallas Media Plan Is All About Message Control
Sana Syed had a baptism by fire. Just after she took the city of Dallas' public information officer job, Thomas Eric Duncan was diagnosed with Ebola. Syed did an admirable job filtering and distributing the torrent of information that would come out over the succeeding weeks.
She would also show that she knew how to spot and promote a story that would be a winner for the city, however harrowing the circumstances. Bentley -- the King Charles spaniel who belongs to Nina Pham, one of the Texas Health Presbyterian nurses to get Ebola after treating Duncan -- quickly became the face and focus of many of Syed's tweets and press releases. The end of the dog's monitoring for Ebola and his reuniting with Pham was the unofficial end of Ebola in Dallas, however absurd the press conference that accompanied it was.
Wednesday, Syed outlined how she hopes to keep the positive news flowing with a new city news website, improved use of social media and something new called "The Communications and Policy Institute."
The website is going to be similar in concept to DISD's The Hub and the Dallas Police Department's DPD Beat, basically a place for the city to spin out stories that are reasonably interesting and not damaging to its messaging.
The policy institute promises to be "[t]he country's first center for education and research focused on communications and urban policy, specifically related to Dallas" and would partner with universities and places like the George W. Bush library and the Poynter Institute using instruction and studio space the city intends to build at the central library.
The goals of all of this are a 50 percent increase in social media reach, 25 videos and articles a month and between five and 10 positive Dallas stories on traditional media each month.
The obvious concerns with this kind of setup were expressed by council member Philip Kingston.
"[A government entity creating news content] always raises the specter of propaganda," he said.
City Manager A.C. Gonzalez, who despite never having been elected is the most powerful person in Dallas city government, said he and his office recognized that issue.
"We understand the challenge as to being informative rather than engaging in advocacy," he said.
Gonzalez backed up his claim by describing city manager's office's struggle to make sure the public understood city bond packages without urging them to support those packages.