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.