Thursday, August 28, 2008

Cool New Tool: Photosynth

If your agency takes photos, then you need to get familiar with Photosynth, a new product just launched by Microsoft. A great demonstration of the software's capabilities is provided here, courtesy of TED.

Essentially, the software allows for unique and interactive displays of photographs. Let's use a photo of a state Capitol as an example. Rather than just showing a flat image of the Capitol, Photosynth takes dozens of photographs shot of the same building -- but each from a different angle and level of detail -- and allows the viewer to experience the view from each of these perspectives and, one would hope, a higher level of appreciation for the building's beauty and details.

A good example is this one of the front of the Taj Mahal. What I like about this is that I can actually "stand" in front of the structure, turn and look back at the walkway leading up to the famous building. And, if you see the "halo" and hold your "control" key while clicking on it, you get a crude, but pretty cool 3-D effect.

Right now, you can take photos of objects and post them to the Photosynth site. All submissions become public property as Microsoft launches this public phase of the project.

We hope to submit something soon. If you submit a project, let us know so we can publicize it.

Defense Department Changes Create New Job

Interested in being the director of a government communications program that employs 2,400 staff, has a budget of more than $225 million and is just now being created? According to an article in the Washington Post, the Defense Department is advertising for a director of its Defense Media Activity.

The department is, according to its Web site, undertaking an initiative designed to modernize and streamline media operations by consolidating military service and department media components into a single, integrated and transformed organization.

The post could pay up to $172,000.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Holtz: What is a Press Release?

PR blogger Shel Holtz has a great piece today on the definition of a news release. He asks a question all government communicators should consider: can a text message serve as a press release? Think about your answer and see if it falls in line with his reasoning.

Journalism: Could it be People Want a Better Product?

The media, particularly newspapers, is obsessed about what is going to happen to its industry. In a time of changing news consumption habits, a rocky economy and greater online consumer choices, the response by media companies generally has been to cut staff, reduce the product and whine about their woes.

What if someone tried to be radically different, such as increasing the number of reporters to cover news, offer an improved product and learn to adapt to the changing marketplace? Bean counters will tell us that it doesn’t make economic sense to do that. And they are always correct in their analysis, right?

This headline about CNN actually daring to increase its staff covering the news brought a glimmer of hope to our theory. We’ll keep our fingers crossed that it works and other news organizations will follow (since we believe America is stronger with a viable press).

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Olympic Deceptions: Harmless Propoganda?

The 2008 Olympics have provided some great theater, and a couple of articles today state that some of that theater was improvised by the Chinese government. Further, the articles state, the government thinks that is just fine.

First, there is the revelation in this CNN article that some of the fireworks seen on television during the impressive opening ceremonies were actually animation.

Then, we find out that the girl who sang "Ode to the Motherland," lip-synched the performance, according to this CNN article. The voice of the girl who actually sang the song was determined not to be photogenic enough for television.

Are these types of deception acceptable for a government? We give the Chinese credit for being upfront and honest that they took these two actions to make for a better broadcast -- although the statements appear to have come after the fact. The government doesn't offer any apologies and, quite frankly, sees no reason why they should.

There are examples throughout history when the U.S. government has decided that putting forth the best images are in the national interest. We tend to cringe when these propoganda methods are revealed, because we believe the public wants, and can handle, the truth.

While these two examples coming from the Olympic games appear to be relatively harmless events, it begs the question, what other kinds of propoganda is the government capable of?

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Spokesdrone Story: Is It Fake News?

Is the government working on a spokesdrone to replace spokespersons? This funny piece from the Onion is a great parody on what one may look and act like. It's good for a chuckle.

We have to wonder, though. About the same time the spokesdrone story arrived on our news reader, we also got a notice from PR Week that the Navy was issuing an RFP to select "its first outside agency to provide communications support for the Navy's Office of Information..."

We're sure it's just a coincidence.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Test Your Grammar Skills has some great exercises for you to find out how much you know about AP style and general grammar. For example, do you the correct answer for this question?

It's a state where __________ swim teams dominate.

1. nationally renown
2. nationally-renown
3. nationally renowned
4. nationally-renowned

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Karen Hughes Gets a Job

When Karen Hughes spoke to NAGC's Communications School in Albuquerque, she mentioned she was looking for a job. She found one that is causing quite a buzz. According to this Washington Post article, she is teaming up with former Hillary Clinton election strategist Mark Penn. Is bipartisanship making a comeback in Washington, D.C.?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Tony Snow

Former White House press secretary Tony Snow passed away on Saturday. As the Washington Post reported on Sunday, Snow "redefined the role of White House press secretary with his lively banter with reporters." The former CNN and Fox News commentator brought instant credibility to his position. When we learned he had cancer, we all began to feel the void.

As we have mentioned in this blog before, the role of White House secretary tends to be the pinnacle job in this industry of government communications. While his tenure was shorter than it should have been, he served our profession well. To his family and friends, we express our deepest sympathy and heartfelt gratitude for his service as a dedicated public servant.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Give Your Press Release a Grade

Does your online press release contain everything it should? A new Web site PressRelease Grader, analyzes your press release on contact information, company information, links to your agency, "Gobbledygook" words and other criteria. It's rather basic service now, but there appears to be great potential here.

This site was recommended in a post on the My Creative Team Thinking blog.

Monday, July 7, 2008

New Words in New Dictionary: Have a Mondegreen?

The dictionary and AP Stylebook are often cited as two essential sources for government communicators that write news releases. Merriam-Webster keeps its dictionary fresh by adding new words each year. CNN reports there are about 100 new words this year.

"Many of the new entries reflect the nation's growing interest in the culinary arts, including prosecco (a sparkling Italian wine) and soju (a Korean vodka distilled from rice). Others define new technology or products, such as infinity pool -- an outdoor pool with an edge designed to make water appear to flow into the horizon.

Others reflect current events and much-discussed news topics, including dirty bomb (a conventional bomb that releases radioactive material) and Norovirus (small, round single-stranded RNA viruses, such as the Norwalk Virus)."

Perhaps the most fun new word is "mondegreen," which Merriam Webster defines and explains as follows:

("a word or phrase that results from a mishearing of something said or sung") has delighted wordplay aficionados for years. Mondegreen was first coined by author Sylvia Wright in 1954 in Atlantic magazine, when she confessed to a childhood misinterpretation of the Scottish ballad "The Bonny Earl of Moray." When she first heard the lyric "they had slain the Earl of Moray and had laid him on the green," she felt terribly sorry for the "poor Lady Mondegreen."

A few more examples:

The ants are my friends = the answer my friend/is blowin’ in the wind
Bob Dylan, "Blowin’ in the Wind"

There’s a bathroom on the right = there’s a bad moon on the rise
Credence Clearwater Revival, "Bad Moon Rising"

Hold me closer, Tony Danza = hold me closer, tiny dancer
Elton John, "Tiny Dancer"

They've even created a Web site so we can submit our favorite lyrical mistakes.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Presidential Press Secretaries: An Interview with Linda Levin

The first presidential press secretary, Steve Early, is the focus of a new book. The author is Linda Lotridge Levin, Professor of Journalism and Chair of the Department of Journalism at the University of Rhode Island in Kingston.

Levin was kind enough to respond to some email questions about the book, which can be purchased at any local or online retailer, or direct from, The toll free order hotline is 800-421-0351.

What inspired you to write about Early?

I got the idea for this book from my daughter, a senior history major at Mount Holyoke College. She was taking a seminar on "The Biography" with Dr. Joseph Ellis, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian. Dr. Ellis asked his students to select someone in American history and write a 40-page biography of him or her. When my daughter was in high school, she had taken a history of American journalism course with me at my university, and she recalled Stephen T. Early so she chose him as her topic. She found very little material on him, but she did find enough to write her paper. When he returned the paper to her, Dr. Ellis said, "Someone should write a book about him." She told me, and I did. It took me ten years to research and write the book. I spent part of those summers and some of my breaks from the university working there, too. It was an amazing experience.

What surprises did you find along the way?

I had no idea of the breadth of materials related to Steve Early and FDR and many others who worked in the administration in the FDR Library. I did not realize that Early and FDR were more than just president and press secretary. They met in 1912 when Early was covering the Democratic convention in Baltimore for the United Press wire service (later UPI), and Roosevelt was there as a delegate from New York state. The two struck up a friendship that lasted until FDR died in April, 1945. When FDR became under secretary of the navy under Woodrow Wilson, Early, now a reporter for the Associated Press, covered the War Department which included navy where his and FDR's friendship flourished. Years later, Early said that the assistant secretary made for great news copy. I also did not realize what a distinguished journalism career Early had with the Associated Press and then with Paramount (moviereels) News before he went to the White House. It was as an AP reporter covering President's Harding's trip to Alaska and the west coast that Early was the first reporter to learn of and report on Harding's death in San Francisco.

How did Early benefit from the introduction of newsreels, radio and other new mediums during the FDR presidency ?

It was serendipitous that Early and FDR went into the White House when media technology had developed to the point where they were able to utilize it to such a great advantage. When Roosevelt was governor of New York in the late 1920's, he discovered he liked to speak on the radio, and he was effective doing it. In addition, Early had developed a wide array of journalism contacts during his years at United Press and the Associated Press. In World War I, Lieutenant Early was a top editor of the Army newspaper, Stars and Stripes, where he worked along side men who later became leaders in the field of journalism and the arts, men such as Adolph Ochs Jr. of the New York Times family; Alexander Woolcott, the prominent playwright; Harold Ross, founder of the New Yorker magazine, and Grantland Rice, one of the greatest sports writers of his day. In 1920, Early served as the advance man for FDR's failed campaign for vice president on the Democratic ticket. Early would travel around the country a couple of train stops ahead of FDR, and he would set up meetings for Roosevelt at newspapers and radio stations in the towns. In this role, Early got to know many media people whom he later would turn to for coverage of the New Deal. As the head of Paramount's newsreel bureau in Washington, Early became acquainted with a number of people in radio and newsreels and learned about the technology. Thus, it was inevitable that the charismatic Roosevelt and the journalist Early would choose to take full advantage of every bit of media technology available and all those journalism contacts Early--and FDR--had made over the years.

Why do you believe FDR was the first president to recognize the value of public relations in the White House?

I'm not sure he was the first president to recognize this, but he was the first president who really enjoyed (at least until the war when censorship was in place and he was traveling a lot to secret wartime meetings) the give and take of a press conference and speaking into a radio microphone. In addition, he was the first president to have Steve Early as his press secretary. The chapter in the book where FDR and Early go to the White House is called "Launching the Juggernaut," and there's no doubt a juggernaut could not have rolled forward without FDR and Early working as a team. Early understood how the media worked, and FDR needed the media to promote his New Deal policies to the nation.

What do you see as the differences and parallels between Early and the modern era's White House Communications team?

Most press secretaries before and after Steve Early have not enjoyed a long-time friendship with the president before he took office. Often the press secretary has been a journalist the president as a politician knew professionally. As I wrote in my book, because Early came to his job when the country was in the midst of the worst economic depression in its history and on its heels a cataclysmic war, it would have been easy for Early and Roosevelt simply to close their doors and ignore the press as presidents before them had done and continue to do. Another difference is that today the president has a much bigger staff and a larger more complex government to run. This frequently has left him with less time to spend in briefings with his press secretary who, unlike Steve Early, is constantly being asked to feed a 24-hour news cycle beast. The result is that contemporary press secretaries seem to have a higher burn-out rate. We probably never again will see an Early who stayed on for 12 years in the White House.

Why was Early so successful as a presidential press secretary?

Because he had been a part of the news media and understood how it worked, he and FDR immediately decided the president would hold twice-weekly press conferences that were timed so reporters could meet their newspaper (and later radio) deadlines. These wildly popular press conferences continued through the war years, although because Roosevelt traveled to war conferences, he did not meet as often with the reporters. Early decided he would hold a daily press conference, and he continued them until the end. Early also instituted an open-door policy for the news media. One result was that Early had a strong relationship with the press. For instance, when he asked photographers never to take pictures of FDR in a wheelchair or being lifted into and out of his car, the photographers readily agreed. This could never happen today in the all-pervasive news media where television in particular regularly captures the utterances and movements of public officials. There are a number of other instances of that strong relationship between Early and the press that I have detailed in my book.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Newspaper Outsourcing

In our continuing look at the newspaper industry, check out this NPR story on how some newspapers are outsourcing some services -- including reporting -- to India.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Speechwriter's Resource: Average

Need to know the average teacher salary by state? How about the average house size? Maybe the average IQ?

There's nothing "average" about this Yahoo blog entry that puts together several averages at your fingertips. Are there other Web sites you like to use when you need information in a hurry?

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Another Novel Newspaper Experiment?

Rocky Mountain News editor, publisher and president John Temple -- while also crediting his town rival Denver Post publisher Dean Singleton -- on Saturday floated another interesting idea to revive the newspaper industry.

Temple says the technology may soon exist where subscribers can get tailored newspapers. In other words, you could get a newspaper delivered to your home that would be different than the one your neighbor gets.

The newspaper business has long been based on editors selecting stories they thought everyone should be informed about, along with a smorgasbord of topics they think might interest different groups of people. He says:

"The newspaper business has long been based on editors selecting stories they thought everyone should be informed about, along with a smorgasbord of topics they think might interest different groups of people...Technology is emerging - electronic and print - that would allow us to deliver a publication that directly responded to those interests customer by customer."

On the heels of the Orlando Sentinel redesign, are these good ideas, or do you think newspapers are over-reaching?

Online Influence and Public Policy

Not that we need any more proof, but here's another example that it's easier than ever to generate viral excitement over the Internet -- even on public policy issues. Politics Online reports that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's online petition to encourage Congress to authorize "the exploration of proven energy reserves" and reduce the country's dependence on foreign oil.

Politics Online reports the site has attracted 1.1 million responses in only 30 days. Will it actually have an influence on Congress? Will it move the needle on public opinion on the issue? It's too early to tell, but how many government agencies can say they have created a specific online product that gets more than one million hits in a month? If you do, let us know and tell us how you did it. Leave a comment below or email us at

Monday, June 23, 2008

A Radical Redesign for Newspapers?

On Sunday, the Orlando Sentinel launched a new redesign of its printed newspaper. (Check out Monday's edition, seen on the left, or view the newspaper's preview of redesigned pages.) The Wall Street Journal says the redesign "is a proving ground for Sam Zell's effort to reinvent floundering Tribune Co., owner of a string of television stations and newspapers, including the Sentinel, the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times."

Readers of Romenesko know that media owners, shareholders, journalists and readers have been ringing their hands the last few years, wondering where print news is headed. Others say print is dead and that all newspapers will be read online in the not-so-distance future.

The move will work, according to the Tribune's Lee Abrams.

As TV journalists like to say, time will tell if this bold experiment works. What do you think of the design and of newspaper's future in general?

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Visualization of This Blog

If you are familiar with tag clouds, then you will love playing with a program called Wordle. You put in a bunch of words and then, "The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes." We decided to see what this blog looks like visually. We entered every word written on this blog and here's a couple of versions of how it looks.

AP Reconsiders Blog Policy

An article in Editor and Publisher reports that the Associated Press says it will "define clear standards as to how much of its articles and broadcasts bloggers and Web sites can excerpt without infringing on The A.P.’s copyright."

The news organization had come under criticism for trying to make one Web site remove several items that referenced quotes from AP articles. Government communicators should pay attention to the new policy when it is released to get a clear understanding of how A.P. articles can be referenced in blogs.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Bonuses for Government Communicators?

An article today by Jason Method of the Asbury Park Press discusses the rarity of bonuses for federal government workers. The piece offers a balanced perspective on the difficulty of issuing bonuses from public funds and the reasons why government might benefit from doing so.

This spring, NAGC issued its first Trends and Salary report. Nearly 24 percent of government communicators at the national, state and local levels reported receiving some kind of bonus in the previous year.

The lure of the private sector is a constant pull for government communicators. Job security and job satisfaction are often reasons these professionals more often than not choose to stay in the public sector.

Perhaps another factor that bonuses are not as prevalent is that the public information industry is still searching for ways to efficiently measure our success.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Report Shines Spotlight on 2008 Election Online Activity

A new report, "The internet and the 2008 election," from the Pew Internet & American Life Project confirms the growing influence of online technologies in the U.S. election cycle. In addition to a summary, the organization listed what it felt was the key findings from the report:
  • Fully 46% of all Americans have used the internet, email, or phone texting to get news about the campaigns, share their views, and mobilize others.
  • More Americans have gone online to get political news and campaign information so far than during all of 2004.
  • Two new internet activities have stormed the political stage: 35% of Americans have watched online videos related to the campaign, and 10% have used social networking sites to engage in political activity.
  • Nearly one in ten internet users has donated money to a candidate online at this point in the race.
  • Young voters tilt toward Obama specifically and toward Democrats generally, and that gives the Democrats some online advantages.
  • 39% of online Americans have used the internet to gain access to primary political documents and observe campaign events.
  • Despite the increased salience of online sources in the political arena, wired Americans have mixed views about the overall impact of the internet on politics.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Best Pactices: Census Bureau Podcasts

The U.S. Census Bureau produces a daily 60-second podcast that serves as a model for government agencies thinking about novel outreach services. From a piece on Father's Day yesterday to motorcycle safety to fingerprints, the agency offers timely and creative topics that are of interest to the media and the general public. Check it out and let us know what you think about this service. Is your agency using podcasts to communicate?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The White House Press Secretary as Author

In government communications, the pinnacle job is the White House press secretary. The public perception of a president often is related to the level of success the press secretary has in dealing with the media. A new book, "What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception," has put a new spotlight on the press secretary's role.

Scott McClellan served as press secretary during a difficult time. He chose not to stay until the end of President George W. Bush's final term and, instead, wrote the book.

The book has created a level of controversy worthy of his time in the White House. There are those who charge he has been disloyal to a president that trusted him and others who think he has provided unprecedented insight to the current administration's operations. Still, there are others who suggest McClellan behaved unethically as press secretary by passing on information to the public that he allegedly know was false. Others say he was just doing his job and did it well under trying conditions.

What do you think? What other issues does his book and public statements mean for government communicators? Leave a comment and take our poll on the right hand side of the page.

Tim Russert

Like most government communicators, I subscribe to quite a few "news alerts" from major news organizations. Most of the ones I receive don't really surprise me. Friday's news alerts about the death of Tim Russert was different; they made me stop working for a while.

I like watching people who enjoy their jobs. There is no question that Tim Russert loved his. From his questions each week on "Meet the Press," the audience knew he had done his homework and that his guests were going to get asked the tough questions. He was a student of American politics and, though not a journalist by training, learned the craft -- and arguably learned it better than most.

The tributes being showered on him are well deserved. His death is a loss for journalism, his family and the nation. His death is also a loss for us in government communications. Russert had a passion for politics and respect for those who serve. But he deservedly held all of them -- and us -- to high standards.

He will be missed and we express our deepest sympathy to his family and colleagues.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Name This Blog!

Help us name this blog, and you could find you or your agency with a free entry to NAGC's Blue Pencil and Gold Screen awards competition next year!

For the last two years, NAGC’s Board of Directors has dedicated itself to providing better member services and outreach. The creation of the blog is another networking tool we are providing to government communicators across the nation. While we will search for articles and items of interest, the blog is set up so you can comment, exchange ideas, and even submit article ideas and questions to ask your colleagues.

Entering this blog naming competition is easy. Either leave a comment in the "comments" section below this posting (you'll have to leave an email address so we can contact you if you win) or send us an email at if you want a little more privacy.

We look forward to your creative ideas! And don't stop there. If there are other things you would like to see on this blog to make it more useful to you, let us know. We are here for you!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Karen Hughes Addresses Government Communicators

Being taken from relative obscurity as Texas Gov. George W. Bush's press secretary to being analyzed by the national press was a shock to Karen Hughes. And while the stage she worked in changed when Bush became president and later when she worked on international relations for the State Department, she says her understanding and use of effective communications served her well.

“It’s great to be with government communicators who share my passion,” she told NAGC members attending the Communications School in Albuquerque. She says she is enjoying her time not being in the daily gossip columns and being at home with her husband.

Nicknamed the "Prophet," by the president, Hughes says the scrutiny on the American president is intense, not just in America but throughout the world. She said she made a mistake by focusing so much on the American public early in the Bush presidency. “In the aftermath of 9-11, that had to change," she said. She quickly set up coalition information centers across the globe, so spokespersons in those centers could respond quickly while it was nighttime in America.

Government communicators not only have to learn to work in a global environment, she said, but also need to be aware they are working in a time when government communications is often misunderstood.

"There is an expectation on us that we should deal with facts and truth," she said. "Facts conflict," she added, noting that government communicators not only have to deal with facts but also the broad context in which facts are being used. This is further complicated, she said, since facts and truth are not always the prism through which the media looks at government.

For example, if statistics come out saying crime is down, it would be very truthful for an official to publicly say that. However, victims of crimes or people living in areas where crime has not gone down, those statistics will not resonate to those people. Consequently, it's better for the official to say, "any amount of crime is too much and while we're making progress, more needs to be done."

That's one reason why it is critical for government communicators to be at the table when public policy is being discussed, Hughes says. Communicators can provide the perspective of the public and provide insight on how the media will react. They also understand the core values of the officeholder, candidate, agency or issue involved.

Hughes shared the five C's of communications that she says has helped her throughout her career. Those are clarity, conviction, compassion, credibility and consistency.

She encouraged the audience to be proactive, rather than reactive. "The times you want to hide under the desk are the times you really need to talk."

The goal of government communicators should be to create "a dialogue, not a monologue," she said. “Our efforts are especially vital in this era of dramatic time and change.”

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Murrow's PR Advice

Two of our more high-profile speakers at NAGC's Communications School in Albuquerque referenced a quote from legendary CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow. It bears repeating here and is good advice for all government communicators to share with their agency heads.

President George W. Bush's trusted advisor Karen Hughes and Radio-Television News Directors Association President Barbara Cochran told of the time when Murrow was serving as head of the U.S. Information Agency under President John F. Kennedy.

After being brought in to help reframe some bad news, Murrow repordetly said if you're going to be there for the crash landing, then you need to be there for the takeoff.

Good advice for all of us.

“The Reporters are Coming! The Reporters are Coming!”

It's one thing to schedule a press event. It's another to make it successful.

John Verrico, NAGC's Communications Director and a spokesman for the Science & Technology Directorate of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, shared his secrets at NAGC's Communications School in Albuquerque last week.

Verrico recommends only holding a press event for information that the media would consider important enough to cover. If the event meets that criteria, then make sure the event is visually interesting, in a location that is accessible by the media, inclusive of other appropriate groups or agencies, and that you have the right spokesperson running the thing.

And to make sure your spokesperson is ready, he suggests holding a "murder board." No, there's no violence involved; but it can be brutal. The purpose of a murder board is to have the spokesperson take directed, pointed, anticipated and off-the-wall questions, to help him or her be comfortable and determine how to deliver message points. The object is for the spokesperson to be prepared, but not appear rehearsed.

Pay attention to logisitics, Verrico says. Make sure everyone involved knows the details. At an event he attended once, the host farmer had not been told the details of the press event and greeted everyone with a shotgun. He also points out that while children and animals make great backdrops, they can be terribly unreliable, such as the time an osprey -- in full camera view -- attacked an eagle that had just been released.

What crazy things have happened to you while putting together a press event? If you attended John's session in Albuquerque, what were your reactions?

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Top 25 Newspaper Circulation

Here is how the top 25 newspapers in the nation fared with their circulation for the six-month period ending March 31.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Open Records Trends Still Concern Journalists

Journalists and government communicators need to understand and help each other "to keep our democracy proud and strong."

That opinion comes from Barbara Cochran, president of the Radio-Television News Directors Association, who addressed NAGC's 2008 Communications School in Albuquerque on Wednesday. Her topic was the Freedom of Information Act and other open records laws.

In her experience, which includes being a network news bureau chief, there is a direct correlation between news coverage and governments/agencies open records policies. “Those that were the most successful were the most open. Those that feared the worst were the most secretive.”

RTNDA, founded 62 years ago, has seen dramatic changes in the ways reporters may cover government agencies. At one point, the electronic press was barred in many federal events from bringing electronic equipment, even to news conference. Those barriers have largely disappeared, with the exception of federal courts, she says.

Progress continued, she notes, until the terrorist attacks in 2001. "Overnight, information disappeared from government Web sites," and the attitude toward openness with the press changed. Another dangerous trend she sees is the increased number of subpoenas demanding journalists sources and records.

While states and localities often have open records laws in place, that is not the case at the federal level, she says. RTNDA worked for passage for "The Open Government Act," but is concerned because of attempts to change the new law. The organization also is extending its annual "Sunshine Week" to a "Sunshine Campaign" that will last through the November elections. Part of the campaign is to get candidates to publicly support open records laws.

One other concern for the electronic media is the shift of newspapers to create more online content, which now includes audio and video reports. This could have an impact on local television stations, although those stations continue to be acknowledged by the public as its primary source of news.

How do you feel about the level of cooperation between your government agency and the press? Do you believe open records laws at the federal level should be tightened or loosened? If you are in Albuquerque, what other parts of Cochran's speech resonated with you?

Case Study: Ethics Crisis Shuts Down Power Company

Many government agencies have a crisis communications plan in place. Memphis, Light, Gas and Water certainly had one. Well, one that covered things like disasters, gas leaks or pandemics. They didn't have one, though, that covered an ethics crisis.

When word broke that a city councilman had used $16,000 worth of utility services and didn't have to pay a bill, MLGW found itself in the middle of a crisis they had not anticipated. Glen Thomas, Communications and Public Relations Supervisor, said the backlash from the public and the media was immediate.

Thomas shared his review of how he and his company reacted to that crisis, including revealing the missteps that happened along the way. In hindsight, he said, those mistakes included:
  • not having a crisis communications plan in place that covered ethical issues;
  • not reviewing all documents that were publicly distributed so they could anticipate media responses; and
  • being too slow on the first day of media coverage.
Since then, MLGW has established new leadership, restructured the company, revised its credit policies, implemented new customer service programs, increased internal and external communications and not have greater transparency.

Does your crisis communications plan have an ethics component? Are there other examples that demonstrate a need for such a plan? If you were in Albuquerque, what other lessons did you take away from the presentation?

NAGC Creates Scholarship Program

NAGC on Tuesday announced the creation of a scholarship program and named it after a president who led the organization through difficult times.

The NAGC board named the award after Gaye Farris, who served as NAGC president from 2000 to 2003. As someone who was recruited by her to join NAGC a number of years ago, it was my honor to announce the establishment of the scholarship during NAGC's annual business meeting.

Gaye assumed leadership of the organization during a time when a vote was being considered to disband. Her determined effort eventually resulted in a dramatic membership and financial turnaround for NAGC. She has remained a dedicated servant to NAGC, even returning to a temporary board position last year.

After being surprised with the honor, she told the group that her husband had heart problems around the same time as the NAGC difficulties. "Both my husband and NAGC were sick at the same time," she told the audience. "I was determined to make sure they both got healthy."

The NAGC board of directors will be determining the criteria for the scholarship program, including its funding and distribution mechanism. If the program is half as successful and strong as Gaye, then it has a great future.

Branding and Identity

Creating a good logo requires getting the right information up front, so designers can create a look that will work for all the organization's purposes. That advice, given to attendees of NAGC's 2008 Communication School in Albuquerque, came from Gilliland Communications LLC Creative Director Collette Gilliland.

It's critical for designers to know what ideas clients have when it comes to creating a corporate identity, she says, since their buy-in will ultimately decide on what design is chosen. When working with a client, she asks these questions:

1. When you think of your organization, what images, text, color or symbols do you think of?
2. What color or colors do you think would best represent this log for your organization?
3. What imagery should be used with this logo?
4. What elements of old or existing logos would you like to see?
5. What is your idea of a timeless logo?

There are essentially four ways to design a logo, she says:

1. Pictorial (A seal)
2. Text logo (Intel)
3. Graphic element (Nike swoosh)
4. Graphic element with text (Hallmark)

Designers also need to know how a logo will be used. What will it go on? (Buildings, buses, clothing, Web sites, letterhead, etc.) How much can the client spend to produce the logo? What surfaces will the logo be used on? Is it necessary for the logo to represent what the organization does? Is it important for the public to know what the organization represents simply by looking at the logo?

Then, after the design, it is important for the organization to create graphic identity standards so the logo is used properly in all communications.

Do you like your agency logo? Did you use a similar process when you created yours? If you are in Albuquerque, what else did you take away from this session?

Where Does Inspiration Come From?

For Winston Churchill, it often involved kicking trash cans and groaning. For Steve Jobs, a calligraphy class helped influence the introduction of the first Mac computer. For speechwriter Hal Gordon, it’s great books, art and opera.

Gordon addressed attendees of NAGC’s 2008 Communications School in Albuquerque. The former speechwriter for the Reagan White House and Gen. Colin Powell believes creativity is critical to good writing. Using Thomas Edison’s quote that genius was one percent inspiration and 99 percent inspiration as a backdrop, he offers four pieces of advice.

1. Look inside yourself. “Don’t be afraid to be yourself,” he says, pointing out you must draw inspiration from your own life. If your life is not very interesting, then you need to make changes so that you find inspiration and creativity around you. He recommends reading “Letters to a Young Poet” and “Becoming a Writer.”

2. Look outside yourself. “Sharpen your powers of observation,” he says, citing a quote from Yogi Berra: “you can see a lot by observing.” Also look to those in your profession for inspiration. For example, the best way for a journalist to become a better writer is to study the writings of the best journalists.

3. Practice creativity. “Make it a habit,” he says. “Creation requires discipline.” If creativity is important in your line of work, you have to practice just like any practitioner would. As a famous pianist once said, “If I don’t practice one day, I notice. If I don’t practice for two days, the critics notice. If I don’t practice for three days, the audience knows it." Gordon suggests making an appointment with yourself to write and to take advantage of creative works around you, such as reading great books and soaking in art. And when it comes to hobbies, choose ones that help the creative process

4. Have a strategy for the moments you are stuck. “You can get a lot of work done if you procrastinate creatively,” he says. When you are working on a project, always collect more material than you can possibly use, so you can pick and choose. And be aware of what stimulates your creativity.

What do you think of Gordon’s approach to creativity? What steps do you take in order to kick-start your writing project? If you are in Albuquerque, what parts of Gordon’s speech appealed most to you?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Case Study: the New Mexico Treasurer's Office

Imagine being at work one day and the FBI shows up. They seize all your equipment, forbid you from using your cell phone and even monitor your trips to the restroom. Oh yeah, they've arrested your boss and you've only been the government communicator there for six weeks.

That's what happened to Jodi McGinnis Porter one day, who at that time worked in the New Mexico Treasurer's Office. She shared her story with attendees of NAGC's 2008 Communication School in Albuquerque.

She was allowed to use an FBI phone and call her husband to let him know she wouldn't be able to pick up the kids that evening. "Why?" he asked. Her response: "I can't tell you but turn on the TV and I think you'll figure it out."

Porter was put in a difficult position. The media was all over the story, but she had no computer to work on. She borrowed the laptop of an FBI PIO and was only allowed to fax out a statement.

For the next several weeks, she had to put up with working in a closely-monitored office, a boss who ignored growing public sentiment to resign, editorial cartoons blasting the office, and growing stories of new allegations.

She built trust with reporters and learned a lot of lessons about crisis communications. While she now works for another agency, she has a new respect and appreciation for those who have to deal with such a crisis.

How would you handle her situation? Has something similar happened to you?

"Everybody Has an Electronic Megaphone"

"The days of controlling the message is over," says Steve Crescenzo. "You might as well join the program."

Government agencies need to get over their fear of social media, Crescenzo told NAGC members at the opening general session in Albuquerque. The CEO of Crescenzo Communications says the main reason they don't is because leaders of the agencies are "afraid of losing control of the conversation."

With so many people able to publish online and no gatekeepers to control their content, the message is being controlled by outside forces, he says. Government needs to learn the new media being and use it to convey their messages and build public trust.

Great examples of agencies who are using social media are the TSA blog "Evolution of Security," the U.S. Census Bureau's daily podcast, and the "All Hands News" from the U.S. Navy.

Social media only works if it meets the following criteria, he says:

1. It must serve a purpose for the organization;
2. You have to fill the “entertain expectations” – especially for podcasts and blogs;
3. Communicators need to be involved in the creation of the content;
4. You need to be coaches, not just “Public Affairs Speicalists;” and
5. You must allow others into the conversation…even if you’re secretly controlling it.

For those of you in Albuquerque, tell us what you thought of Steve's presentation. Did he hit the mark? Will you be taking his advice and start adopting social media?

Government Communicators Meet in Albuquerque

The National Association of Government Communicators is holding its annual Communications School in Albuquerque, New Mexico this week. We'll provide some live entries from the event and follow up with more observations next week. To see the agenda, visit our homepage at

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Web Site Connects Journalists with PR Pros

PR Week reports on a new Web site to help government communicators connect to journalists. "Help a Reporter Out" is described by the magazine "as a possible free alternative to PR Newswire's (PRN) ProfNet."

At first glance, the site seems very easy to use. Peter Shankman, the creator of the site, encourages PR pros to use the service wisely. Check it out and let us know what you think.

Top 30 Newspaper Web Sites

Which newspaper Web sites should you be targeting with your news releases? An Editor and Publisher article lists the top 30 newspaper Web sites for March. The New York Times remains the top Web site, with USA Today, Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times rounding out the top five.

E&P says impressive gains were recorded by The Wall Street Journal, Dallas Morning News, Cleveland Plain Dealer and Village Voice.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Best Practices: White House E-newsletter

More government communication offices are using tools to give the public a broader view of activities than the public can get through the media. Even the White House has a need to get other messages out.

The White House allows the public to subscribe to a weekly newsletter that gives readers more details on the president's busy schedule, as well as link to press briefings, statements from the president, the weekly radio address and even personnel announcements. Oddly, the weekly issues do not appear to be available online. Here is a link to a sample from the White House Web site.

Are there other government agency newsletters that you like and believe could inspire other government communicators? Send us an email at or leave a comment below.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Case Study: Chicago Transit Crisis Reaction

One of our goals of this blog is to highlight developing case studies, so you can see how other government agencies and communicators are handling crisis and other situations as they unfold.

Today, in Chicago, the mayor's office is reacting to a crisis last week that left city train riders without help or instruction when the train stopped in a tunnel. According to an article in the Chicago Tribune, the mayor initially praised crews last week but now is demanding changes in how the city reacts to similar situations in the future.

From a PR perspective, what do you think of the mayor's reaction? Here's what the people of Chicago are saying in response to the Tribune article.

Tony Snow Joins CNN

Former White House Press Secretary Tony Snow has joined CNN's political team.

Video Blogs: The Easy Way

One of my favorite emails each morning is "Al's Morning Meeting." Written by former journalist and current Poynter contributor and consultant Al Tompkins, the daily email is designed to provide reporters with story ideas and insights to emerging trends in the industry.

Yesterday, he described how he posts his video blogs. Using a camera he bought online for $60 and other inexpensive software that actually provides a teleprompter for it, he shows just how easy it is to do a video report suitable for the Web. Watch the video and you'll be ready to start posting yourself.

Have other tips like this to share with other government communicators? Send us an email at or leave a comment below.

Poll Results: Salaries

In our first poll, survey takers reported results a bit different to NAGC's first Trends and Salaries Survey. Fifty-three percent reported they believed their salaries were comparable to colleagues from across the country. Fifteen percent said their salaries were above average and 30% said their salaries were below average.

In NAGC's survey of government communicators last year, 42 percent reported their salaries were below average, 40 percent said their salaries were on average and about four percent said their salaries were above average.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

AP vs. News Editors

There is growing tension between Associated Press and some of its member newspapers. This report in Editor and Publisher talks about a clash that erupted during the American Society of Newspaper Editors annual gathering in Washington, D.C. this week.

Those who follow journalism know this situation has been brewing for weeks. For government communicators, particularly those charged with distributing messages nationally, this could have serious implications and deserves to be monitored.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Speechwriter's Resource: #1 songs

Here's a nifty little site that speechwriters and other government communicators may find useful when you are looking for something noteworthy to note an anniversary or celebration. David Pogue, tech columnist for The New York Times, writes in his blog today about a site that allows you to find out the number one song in America on any given day.

Josh Hosler's Web site easily gives you access to the number one songs from the time Billboard started charting the tunes. Whether you want to know what song was number one on the day your guest of honor was born or when your special friend graduated from college, this site allows you to find out the answer to those questions, without having to reveal your age.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Press Secretaries in the News

Some interesting articles about press secretaries in today's news.

  • Reviews of a new book, The Making of FDR: The Story of Stephen T. Early, America’s First Modern Press Secretary, are coming out. Read this review in Sunday's Providence Journal.
  • Rob Courdry has been tapped to play Ari Fleischer in Oliver Stone's new movie, "W," according to this article from MTV's Movies Blog.
  • In a related article to today's posting on reputations, the press secretary for Pittsburgh's Mayor has resigned under a cloud of scandal, according to this article in the Pittsburgh Business Times.

Find more articles about press secretaries, spokespersons, marketing and other topics in the right hand sidebar of this blog, under "News You Can Use." Click the category you are interested in to view Google's top five news stories. Have other categories you think we should include? Email us at

Holding Ourselves -- and Our Colleagues -- Responsible

Reputations can take years to make, but only a moment to destroy. History is full of examples where one misstep by an adored public servant damages his or her legacy, perhaps for a lifetime.

For government communicators, too much of our time is spent reacting to news rather than generating it. A report, "Governmentwide Purchase Cards," released by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) is another example where the costly actions of a few employees hurts the reputation of an entire industry.

The report focuses on credit card abuse by federal government employees. The examples it cites are juicy. GAO found purchases for internet dating services, $160 per person dinners and employees buying iPods for personal use. In a 10-year period, purchases on federal credit cards jumped from $3 million to nearly $18 million. In addition, several agencies could not find or account or some equipment purchased.

Consequently, several agencies over the next few days are going to have to respond to these charges. Already, we see several stories about the report in the news. To those of you having to do damage control this week, we feel your pain.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Headline Grabbers: 4-10-08

Some news headlines and a quote that caught our eye in today, all of which have implications for government communicators.
And San Francisco spokesperson Nathan Ballard appears to have a good attitude about his job. Check out a great quote from him that appeared in the New York Times.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Learning About Technology in Algiers

A group with state legislative ties is in Algeria this week, charged with sharing information on media relations and how to use technology to communicate with citizens. While this type of outreach is not necessarily newsworthy, the information they are sharing with the world in a blog they created for the trip has some great insights for goverment communicators.

For example, are you familiar with and USTREAM.TV? Ric Cantrell, Chief Deputy of the Utah State Senate, set up a live stream on from Algiers using "a cheap video camera, my laptop computer and an Internet connection." They've set up an Algiers YouTube channel as well, used translation software and are still keeping up with work back in the states.

It's an impressive display of what creativity and an understanding of technology's capabilities can do for government communicators. Check it out and leave your comments.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Is News Consolidation Good For Business?

CBS News denied today that it was considering outsourcing some of its news gathering to CNN. The denial came after a story in The New York Times said such plans were being discussed.

Media mergers and corporations squeezing more and more from reporters is not news, but it got us pondering how these media trends affect government communicators. In one sense, fewer reporters and media outlets makes the market more competitive and harder to get our messages out. On the other hand, if there are fewer traditional outlets for our messages, does it open up our ability to aggressively pursue non-traditional media sources (such as social media, blogs, podcasts, etc.) to reach our audiences?

Let us know how you are dealing with the shrinking media market. Is it changing the way you and your agency operate? Does it make you depend on traditional media less?

Monday, April 7, 2008

Is the Media Required to Provide Full Story Disclosure?

Jen Rae Hein, press secretary for Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, feels deceived by journalists from the University of Nebraska's Daily Nebraskan. She finds herself deep in a spot where journalistic ethics, news and the role of a government communicator collide.

An article in Friday's Omaha World-Herald indicates that the student newspaper, working on a story on a convicted killer who gives tours at the governor's mansion, set up a private tour by saying it was working on a story about the house being placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Hein, according to the article, considered banning reporters from the governor's press conferences but chose instead to simply take the paper off its distribution list.

What do you think? Did the newspaper break ethical boundaries to get the story it wanted, or could it have achieved its goals by being up front with the focus of the story? If they had revealed their story focus, would the governor's office have had the right to say no to a private tour? Should the governor's office now punish the newspaper? Leave your comments on how you would react.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

New Report Gauges Salaries, Trends for Government Communicators

For the first time, government communicators now have data to compare their salaries and benefits with their colleagues from across the nation.

NAGC recently released its first "Trends and Salary Report," which shines a spotlight on a profession often overlooked. NAGC members may download a copy of the report for free. Others may order a copy from NAGC.

Do you believe your salary and benefits are up to national standards? Take our poll at the top of the page until April 18 to express your opinion, or leave a comment to this story below.

In addition to salary breakdowns, here are some of the survey's highlights:
  • Women dominate the profession. Nearly two out of every three government communicators are female.
  • The largest percentage of government communicators are between 36 and 60 years old, suggesting that people do not enter government communications directly from college, but come from other fields.
  • Most government communicators are pleased with their agency's attitude toward public relations and most believe the media does a fair job of covering their agency. But more than 80 percent believes their agency's Web site needs to be improved.
  • At least 72 percent of government communicators say writing, editing, drafting news releases, producing web content and holding media events are core parts of their jobs. Only five percent write for blogs and only seven percent produce podcasts. However, they see this changing dramatically in the next two years, while they see less use of celebrity spokespersons and producing magazines, brochures and other publications.
  • Nearly three-fourths of communicators find it impossible to do their jobs in a 40-hour work week.
  • About 58 percent believe public cynicism is at an all-time high.
  • In terms of contracted services, government communicators see more need for media measurement, Web conferencing and Web hosting.

Welcome to NAGC's Blog for Government Communicators

The principal purpose of the National Association of Government Communicators is to promote and advance the profession of government communicators at the national, state and local levels. This blog represents another advancement in NAGC's efforts to better network government communicators.

We believe this blog will become another important tool to help those in our profession share information, learn from each other and watch real-time case studies unfold in the media.

Anyone may comment on any posting listed here. We encourage you to generate discussions and offer your perspective on the items we share.

For the last two years, the NAGC Board of Directors has restructured the organization, strengthened its ability to interact with members and offered members new tools to network with one another. We hope you enjoy this new blog and the new NAGC!