Will the Shumlin administration be the first to finally “get” new media? Sigh. No, not so much…

Ah, the “new media”: Facebook, YouTube, Twitter… and yes, the dreaded blogs. Never has a bunch of simple software caused so much sturm, drang, und tail-chasing among so many political types.

Going second hand here, as GMD has been dropped from the Shumlin administration’s press release list (looks like we’re back… some sort of snafu), but news reports indicate that the Shumlin administration has made two communications hires: Sue Allen will be returning to the Pavilion as a Special Assistant to the Governor, and Bianca Slota will be the administration’s “Press Secretary.”

A couple of odd things, here. First, vtdigger reports that Slota will only be receiving a $45,000 salary – which is pretty tiny for such a key position. This suggests that Allen will be doing a lot of the heavy lifting usually associated with the titular Press Secretary position. The other odd thing is that Slota will, according to digger, “In addition to day-to-day press responsibilities… focus on new media and web-based communications”

So the administration’s new media professional is a reporter whose experience consists of being a TV reporter on Alaska local news and WCAX in the 5 years since graduating from the University of Maryland.

Y’know, call me crazy, but… I dunno. If you take baking seriously, and you want somebody to work for the biggest bakery in the state, you hire a – you know – baker. Right? If you need somebody to work on your car, you wouldn’t ring a bicycle mechanic, right? Am I off here?

But for its new media position (and a piece of a position at that), the administration goes with yet another legacy reporter, who will have a period of on the job training in a position dozens of people who actually work in the medium could’ve hit the ground running on.

The fact is that the list of obvious folks for such a position is huge: who wouldn’t want Essex Junction blogger Steve Benen, named by Atlantic magazine as one of the nation’s most influential pundits (ahead of such names as Lou Dobbs and Ezra Klein) on your team? Think you can’t peel him away? How about trying David Waldman, aka Kagro X, the former GMD front pager, current blogger for the dKos-sponsored Congress Matters site, and generally the go-to new media person nationally on the intricacies and vagueries of the Washington political process?

Too far removed from day-to-day Vermont governing? Fine. One obvious choice, then, is Cathy Resmer – long-time new media editor for Seven Days. She goes back to the very genesis of the Vermont blogosphere and has done tremendously creative things with the medium. Still pissed at Seven Days over the “ethically challenged” poll, then how about blogger/filmmaker/all-around-new-media-pioneer Bill Simmon of Burlington? Granted, Philip Baruth is starting a new job as a Senator, but how about reporter Christian Avard, who has not only been a blogger for this site, Huffington Post, and Raw Story – but who is also a professional print journalist at the Deerfield Valley News, and before that the late Vermont Guardian? There’s a crossover talent for you. Or how about vtdigger’s Anne Galloway for heaven’s sake?

Look, I’m sure Slota is a wonderful, talented, intelligent person. She’ll probably do fine. This isn’t about her, it’s about the administration that hired her. It’s the equivalent of hiring a novelist to be your print media person – one could say that their experience is related, except that it’s really not. It’s about the people in power still not taking this medium seriously. In hiring someone from outside the new media world as your in-house new media professional, you’re saying one of two things.

First, that you think new media is a trifling thing. Maybe just a bunch of facebook updates that anybody can do. I don’t think that’s what’s going on here, though.

The second, more likely option: you’re hiring for a liaison. An ambassador. Somebody from your world who can travel to the mystic netherworld of new media and speak to the natives. Because new media isn’t something you do, it’s something external to be managed.

And that’s a shame – and a concern. A shame for the missed potential from such a legacy mindset. A concern because although, yes, sites like GMD have given the left a leg up on new media in Vermont, that situation isn’t going to last forever. And you better believe that the right in this state isn’t going to take long to figure out that new media isn’t some cosmic force to be communed with, it’s the new – and will very soon be the dominant – communications medium in America.

In the modern political landscape, you don’t just “liaise” with new media. You do it, you own your piece of it – or you fall behind.

When the dust settles, there is no in-between.

16 thoughts on “Will the Shumlin administration be the first to finally “get” new media? Sigh. No, not so much…

  1. (1) his campaign web site was not very well handled.  That’s my biggest complaint about his campaign– the site was always days behind in terms of getting stuff up and out there, so I didn’t expect his administration to be any more interested in new media than his campaign was.

    (2) On the night of the primary election, Shumlin was the only candidate who didn’t send us a statement for posting on GMD.  He also was the candidate who won.  So I can’t exactly argue with him for not taking us as seriously as the other candidates.  The fact is, that strategy worked for him.

    (3) I’m not willing to criticize his choice at this point because I’ve seen media folk in the past translate their work into serious new media quite well once given the opportunity to do so.  

  2. I’m more concerned with how he integrates “new” media into the operations of his office, rather than just the way he communicates with the public.

    Right now, if you want to use your computer to communicate with the governor’s office you need to go to the web site and open a text form with instructions that say (I’m not kidding) “please be as descriptive as possible; 1000 character limit.” There is no mechanism for attachments, and when you call the office to get an actual email address for public comments you are told that attachments and additional text are prohibited because it is too difficult to track that material.

  3. I have taken great exception to your disparaging comments about novelists, Sir.  You shall soon be on the receiving end of a long letter of complaint, and a letter very warm in tone indeed!  I and my brethren will not be slighted in this manner . . .


    Odum has it precisely right:  there’s a lingering, pervasive sense that what bloggers do is increasingly valuable, but that bloggers themselves are the least reputable vendors of same.  Acquiring your own in-house Odum, or hiring Resmer away from 7Days or Simmon away from VCAM, would have been a very savvy move.  But we shouldn’t shy away from another factor here:  bloggers are ruggedly independent by nature, and there’s always a hesitation when it comes to adding an independent rather than someone schooled, credentialed and experienced in a more top-down system.  Peter Dao showed it can be done, but Meghan McCain showed that it can be badly undone, too.

  4. The tone of the original post suggests that somewhere hidden in the valleys of Vermont is an Institute of New Media – that training site of all expertise in using the computer to communicate with the computer-using elite of this state.  Hopefully, no such institute exists.  While I agree that use of the new media has an appropriate place in an overall communications program, it is not the end-all-and-be-all of it.  Our new governor has to communicate with all Vermonters; thus he needs a program that covers all the bases.  Shumlin’s appointments to date suggests he understands that.  Give him a chance to communicate, before going off the deep end.

  5. Hell, my 14mo son has more “new media” experience!  But given my losing an election, and only teaching 1.25 course sections next semester, I could be had for less than 45k.  I’ve got, like, eleventy blogs, twitter feeds and Facebook pages, and am even now a Democrat…

  6. Will Shumlin let bloggers attend and ask questions at his press conferences?  Didn’t Douglas famously not allow them at his?

    Shumlin stopped following me on Twitter because of a BurlingtonPol post he didn’t like.  That kinda hurt my new media feelings.  

  7. Hey, thanks for the nod, John! Though honestly, if I had been asked, I would have said no. I’d be crazy to give up my job. We just bought another newspaper (Kids VT), and had a great year.

    And Anne would have said no, too, I’m sure. She’d be nuts to bail now! She’s getting traction. Steve, too. Did you see the post they just put up about him on the Washington Monthly blog? He’s a gem.

    I think Bianca will do fine. You should take this opportunity to reach out to her and help her understand the new media landscape. But I’m sure you’re on it already.

  8. Regarding Governor Peter Shumlin’s online or new media presence and his press secretary, whose role included such, as was reported last week by vtdigger (here; last paragraph) and today via vt.buzz (here), Bianca Slota is slated to leave the administration in late July and will not be replaced.

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