OPINION: Media relations key to moving forward

One last tip from the Ponoka News editor: Media relations

This is the last edition of the Ponoka News before the cat’s out of the bag and all the nominees for councillors and school trustees are announced.

This is an important election in Ponoka’s history. The town is on the verge of something that hasn’t been seen for decades and this next council will either continue the processes, or slow it down.

Residents will be ready this time, perhaps more than they have in many years. With the changes that came in these last four years, people appear to be paying attention. Change isn’t a bad thing but most people, regardless of what they say, fear it.

With that in mind it may be appropriate to give one last bit of unsolicited advice to those running for political office: Learn how to work with your local media.

To quote Lacombe Mayor Steve Christie, who spoke to candidates last week: “He can be your friend. Or he can be your enemy. I think it’s up to you to decide.”

Christie was speaking to a question from Ponoka News about dealing directly with the media. He suggests honesty is key to ensuring a positive working relationship.

The days of secrets and “no comment” are over. People’s thirst for knowledge and information means residents also require that of their elected officials and governments, local or otherwise.

That being said, it is true that nothing is really off the record, but working honestly with your local media also creates an element of trust that will pay dividends later.

It’s not to say that a controversial story won’t get published, but it may just help mitigate damage. There’s going to be times that a decision will not be appreciated by the editor, and, as is their right, they may even speak their opinion on the matter.

It’s difficult to reconcile strong words against something that seemed reasonable when deciding on it as a council, but the reality is not everyone, including the media, are going to like all of council’s decisions.

There are three on this current council who remain open to criticism. At the same time those same three know the editor’s door is always open for response. A good working relationship doesn’t mean we will always agree, but it does mean there’s an element of trust between councillors and the media that we can meet in the middle on different issues.

Closing the door to any communication will only increase distrust and confusion. And if you are unwilling to speak with the local media on important matters then you also ensure the wrong message is going to get across to residents. It’s irresponsible and unnecessary.

That’s not to say that you should go into an interview and divulge things that cannot be communicated, but if you close the doors on all discussion, then don’t be surprised when the wrong message comes across.

Don’t believe me? Just ask those on council who have shut the door on communicating with the media and those who continue to speak with the media.

That last part is important; as a councillor, you will need to look at both sides of a story when making decisions. This is the perfect time to practice that principal.

Speak to those who have opposing viewpoints and come up with a conclusion for yourself based on their response.

With the last few days coming in before nomination day there may be a few things candidates can brush up on: the Municipal Government Act (MGA) and the changes coming down the pipeline to it, town minutes and the town’s budget. These are all important parts to being a councillor.

Pay special attention to the need for “intermunicipal collaboration” in the MGA. The province is literally mandating that municipalities work together on planning.

If you don’t play well with others in the sandbox you may need to rethink your strategy because grants may be less forthcoming and the ones who are going to pay for that shortsightedness are the residents.

The world has changed and working in silos is an outdated way of thinking. For those running for municipal office, your focus must be forward thinking. And don’t forget, the media can be your friend, or your worst enemy. Just ask Trump.