Sault news media are widely perceived as imbalanced and negative, according to an independent survey commissioned by the City of Sault Ste. Marie.
"Many research participants (employees, citizens, community leaders) said the media tended to focus on 'negative' events rather than on achievements, creating an imbalanced view of the City if news reports were their primary source of information," said a report prepared by Art Osborne and Associates, in conjunction with Dimension Mediation and Communications Group and Toronto-based Symphony Creative Group.
Among 197 City employees surveyed, only nine percent agreed with the statement "The local media (newspaper/TV/or radio) is a reliable and timely source of information about the City corporation."
36 percent of City employees said they tended to agree with the statement, but 55 percent didn't know or disagreed that the media are reliable and timely.
A related survey of 84 citizens found that just one percent were completely satisfied with the quality, frequency and timeliness of the information they receive about the City.
When the same question was asked of 30 local organizations, five percent expressed full satisfaction with the quality of information about the city. Seven percent were fully satisfied with the frequency of this information, and 10 percent with the timeliness.
"As in most communities, the colour of political debate and activity attracts more media interest and attention than delivery of municipal programs and services that are meeting the needs of citizens and stakeholders," the report said.
"Thus there was a perception by many respondents among citizens at large and community leaders, as well as employees, that coverage of the City was imbalanced."
Some sample comments regarding the news media:
- "Too many negative doom and gloom stories are burying the positive things going on in this city"
- "Newspaper talks about political aspects. Need to use website to get the story on what City is really doing"
- "Most City reports have a very negative slant. City Council as a whole and management staff do not have a positive image - people don't trust them" - "I hear a lot about political in-fighting (via newspaper)"
- "Media is too negative on reporting of City's business."
The surveys were done during the fall and early winter to develop a corporate communications strategy for the City.
The Osborne/Dimension/Symphony report recommends the City spend about $80,000 a year to hire a full-time communications professional, invest in communications training for senior managers and councillors, and move toward using the Internet as the primary vehicle for communicating with the public.
"The City web site has the potential to be an excellent community information resource, but requires more attention to ensure information is updated on a regular basis so that it is timely, which would motivate greater use and more frequent visits," the report said.
The report also recommends establishing a consistent 'look and feel' for the Sault's communications materials and implementing a "proactive media relations program to support balanced coverage of City Hall and to increase awareness of municipal achievements, programs and activities."
When the report was presented to City Council on Monday, it was referred to future budget deliberations.
Sault Star, MCTV, Shaw, radio
Of citizens surveyed for the report, 54 percent said the newspaper is their first choice for getting City information, compared to 14 percent for MCTV, 12 percent for radio, 11 percent for meeting minutes or other circulated materials, 11 percent for their City representative, nine percent for the City's Internet site, and four percent for community cable.
When the same citizens were asked where they would prefer to get their information, 49 percent said the newspaper, 15 percent said MCTV, 15 percent said their City representative, eight percent said radio, five percent said community cable, four percent said the City's Internet site and four percent preferred circulated materials. The survey did not provide a category for privately owned websites, but several citizens indicated they'd like to access City information on SooToday.com.
Media representatives interviewed for the survey were generally satisfied with the responsiveness of City officials they contact for information.
"Media interviewed said they had limited capacity to cover municipal affairs and limited space/time available to present it," the report said.
Feedback from City staff
The responses from some City employees also provided some surprisingly negative asides:
- "Upper management is not always honest about how vacant management jobs are filled. They post jobs that suit them, and other jobs, and restructuring is done behind closed doors."
- "This is a secretive organization. Our department head hoards information based on the belief that knowledge is power."
- "It is my feeling that City Hall is too clicky. Positions seem to be open for family members or someone of the same ethnic background. I also feel that Mr. Fratesi has too much involvement in the daily functions of City Council. As we, the people, vote in City Council members, we should have much more to say in the major decisions made for this city. For instance, what was the cost of this survey?"
- "I find I receive more information related to the City through the media. Unfortunately, my immediate supervisor is not able to pass on relevant info due to the fact that information is not being communicated to the front-line supervisors. Very poor communication."
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