2015-11-12 / Opinion

Communicator Needed


Here’s an SOS offered in the spirit of cooperation to whomever the City Council finally selects to be Newport’s next city manager: Do not waste a single moment in naming a competent, savvy individual as your “communications director.”

As many of our readers who follow these things already know, the city has not had a communications director. That task has pretty much been left to the city manager who, of course, should be busy enough just managing the city. Now, however, the council has funded the position in the city’s budget for the current fiscal year and, hopefully, will do so from now on.

In Newport this person would be a “communications director.” That’s the budget term for the job. In other places—such as the Rhode Island State House—the governor’s chief communicator is called a “press secretary,” just the same as at the White House.

These semantic niceties don’t really matter. Call the person whatever you like. In fact, his or her primary responsibility is to ensure effective communications from the executive office to the public. In reality, these jobs are as much political as they are governmental.

Be that as it may. These jobs are also necessary. Here’s why the position is needed here.

According to a “citizen satisfaction” survey conducted In Newport over this past summer by the ETC Institute of Olathe, Kan., the people of this town are not terribly impressed by the quality of information as it emanates from City Hall. Four percent of the 1,226 respondents were “very satisfied” with efforts to inform residents about local issues. Thirty percent were “satisfied.” However, 36 percent said they were “neutral” and 29 percent were flat-out “dissatisfied.”

Similarly, asked how well the city “listens/responds” to citizens, 41 percent said they were “dissatisfied,” 18 percent were “satisfied,” just two percent were “very satisfied” and 39 percent were “neutral.” To read the complete results of the survey, go to cityofnewport.com/departments/ city-manager.

And to think that this year’s survey results on these matters were eight percent better than in 2006, the last time the ETC Institute asked these same questions. To us that statistic offers no consolation.

We expect City Hall to do better and we expect that adding the proposed new communications position will help speed things along.

Meanwhile, this same survey offered a ray of hope to us and to those of you who still believe that there remains an important place for print newspapers in today’s “electronic” society. Asked about their sources of information about the city of Newport, 68 percent listed the Newport Daily News (827 respondents) and 66 percent said Newport This Week (803 respondents). Nothing else came close.

Of course, both newspapers have a web presence as well as traditional print issues. However, just 30 percent of respondents said they got their city news from the Internet. And just 37 percent listed television as that source.

Long live print journalism.

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