Gavin Maclure's Musings

My take on politics locally, nationally and internationally


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EXCLUSIVE: Press Gallery scrapped at Ipswich Borough Council

Last week I reported on the important announcement that Ipswich Borough Council are to appoint a social media officer at Grafton House.

This prompted me to ask chief executive Russell Williams why the press gallery at the Town Hall only allows access to traditional print media journalists and the Council’s communications chief. I was also keen to know the process I should follow to gain access to the press gallery as I felt bloggers should be treated equally with the dead tree press.
Well, today the blogosphere in Ipswich has won a victory of sorts. Mr Williams has acted swiftly and this afternoon he informed me the Borough Council have decided to scrap the “press gallery” – actually just one table and two chairs – and move the Morning Ipswich Star’s political editor, Paul Geater, and the Council’s communications chief to the public gallery. So in effect, bloggers and traditional media journalists will now report on Council proceeding together in one place. Very cosy.
In related news, Mr Williams also tells me bloggers and other social media outlets will now receive press releases from the Council along with the print and broadcast media. I am told Ipswich Spy have been waiting months to get on the press release list so this will be most welcome in that parish. Gavin Maclure’s Musings intends to request receipt of future press releases and all bloggers can apply to be placed on the list by following the instructions on the Council’s Press Office webpage.
Despite the new social media officer not yet been appointed with the vacancy open for applications until tomorrow, it seems the Council’s top officer team is taking social media seriously now. Ipswich Borough Council should be applauded for facilitating full and transparent reporting of the Council’s activities – a core tenet of democracy – by ensuring both traditional journalists and bloggers are now treated equally when all 48 councillors meet to represent Ipswich residents at the Town Hall.
I look forward to reporting – alongside new and traditional scribes – at the next full meeting of the Council on 26th September.


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Ipswich Borough Council joins the 21st Century

Ipswich Spy has written a good piece today on Ipswich Borough Council’s appointment of a social media officer to their communications department.

I understand Tory Group leader Cllr John Carnall’s point about additional spending when the public debt pile is rising – with the national public debt increasing by £600bn under the present Government alone – and I certainly could find a hundred ways to save money at Ipswich Borough Council, having been a councillor there for four years.  However, I feel Cllr Carnall’s reaction to the social media officer appointment was a little knee-jerk; would Mr Carnall have used the word “disgraceful” in the context of social media if he was in his 30s and not his 60s? 
Social media such as Twitter, Facebook, blogs, YouTube and a plethora of web-based communication applications are empowering millions today (including people over 60!)? Look how much further Cllr Carnall’s comments now go because of social media. He made his comments to the Morning Ipswich Star but I read them on the blog Ipswich Spy and was no where near a copy of the local paper. The so-called mainstream media is quickly becoming not very mainstream at all – as the Morning Ipswich Star circulation figures clearly show. Undoubtedly, social media is a force which will only get stronger as more people consume their news and debate electronically.
However, I can’t believe the Council could not recruit for this position internally. Are they really saying out of the hundreds of people they employ, not one had the requisite skills to take over the running of the social media function at Ipswich Borough Council? It is not a full-time job, surely? What will they need to do? Send out a few tweets, keep the Facebook site up-to-date, create a guide for less IT-literate civil servants on how to communicate with the public via Twitter and Facebook. A couple of days a week, maximum.
Perhaps, the new recruit could make a start by tweeting when the Area Committees take place? I asked for this, as a resident, back in March but it has still not happened.
Ipswich Spy also made the very pertinent point about how Ipswich Borough Council treats bloggers over the dead-tree press, such as the Morning Ipswich Star. Let’s hope their new social media recruit tells the Borough communications chief that Archant’s circulation is going DOWN whereas blog readership is going UP year-on-year. It makes you wonder why the Council puts Morning Ipswich Star political editor Paul Geater on a pedestal, quite literally, at town hall Council meetings. Mr Geater gets his own table and chair (and, of course, a jug of water) high up with the councillors whilst bloggers like myself and Ipswich Spy have to squeeze into the public gallery.
If I was in charges of communications and the media at the Council, I’d be a little more concerned the future of journalism – the blogosphere – were being kept sweet rather than the dead tress press. Of course, I might not be aware of the Council’s open-all-doors media policy so I’ve today emailed the chief executive, Russell Williams, to ask for a copy of the process for gaining access to the press gallery. I’ll let you know his reply in due course.


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Fellow bloggers

I’d like to thank my fellow bloggers for their warm welcome to the Blogosphere since I started my own blog after stepping down as a councillor on Ipswich Borough Council earlier this month, in particular the excellent Bridge Ward News and A riverside view blogs.

The blogs which I regularly follow at the moment are in the right hand column – I hope you enjoy reading them.