A NEW CITY AUDIT shows blogs racing ahead of the mainstream media in stimulating citizen discussion about Portland government.
The Office of Management and Finance commissioned the $2,884 audit from Portland-based digital marketing group White Horse Consulting as part of "Project Refresh," Mayor Sam Adams' effort to update the city's website.
White Horse scanned all social websites around the world for blogs and citizen comments about the City of Portland between May and October 2009. The group searched for references to the word "Portland," and then one of the following terms: "Bureau," "City," "Government," "Agency," or "Department."
THE TOP 10 PORTLAND BLOGS, according to White Horse. Rankings based on number of posts related to city government from May to October 2009.
References to the Breedlove scandal involving the mayor weren't deliberately excluded, as it has tended to dominate headlines since the story broke a year ago. But according to the audit, the story didn't make much of an impact on citizen discussion about city government: Only 10 posts about the Breedlove scandal also included references to the audit team's city government search terms, says White Horse emerging media specialist Jamie Beckland.
The search terms were worked out with the Office of Management and Finance, with no reference made to the Breedlove scandal, says Beckland.
"The big takeaway, for me, was that social communities allow for a greater range of civic participation than ever before," Beckland adds.
Seventy-two percent of conversations Portlanders are having online about the city are happening on blogs, according to the audit—while only 16 percent of such conversations are happening in comments to mainstream media articles. According to the report, Portland's digital engagement also splits along geographic lines, with 40 percent of online conversations referencing Southeast Portland, 30 percent referencing North and Northeast Portland, 17 percent Southwest Portland, and 13 percent Northwest Portland.
Cops and bikes are the major issues of concern, with 36 percent of online conversations referencing the police bureau and 18 percent referencing the Portland Bureau of Transportation.
The report also says citizens don't distinguish nonprofessional blogs from online mainstream media sources, and that as such, it's important for the city to "correct factual inaccuracies, and shape the context of a particular scenario where possible."
For example, the report quotes citizen comments about the 2006 death in police custody of James Chasse, and about photographs of Portland Police Bureau Captain Mark Kruger in Nazi attire. It suggests that the city "broadcast talking points built for the press into social media" to dilute citizen outrage and concern on these issues.
Where possible, the city should use recommendations from citizens on blogs, says the report, and tell citizens that it is doing so. For example, the city could implement one commenter's idea referenced in the report, to "make a goal to reducing the use of Tasers on persons with mental illness by 50 percent per year for the next five years."
"When Chasse was killed in 2006, we began to publish whatever came out about the issue on our site, because we were so outraged by that event," says Roy Silberstein, president of the Mental Health Association of Portland, whose website emerged second on the audit. "We've been making sure that the issue was in the media, upon every twist and turn."
Bikeportland.org Editor Jonathan Maus is thrilled to find the audit ranked his website as the top place for online discussion about city government.
"I want the city knowing that citizens are talking about them on a site that is totally independent," says Maus. "And I want commenters to know that there are people at the city actually reading their comments."
Maus cites Bikeportland.org commenters' response to the October 2007 bike deaths of Tracey Sparling and Brett Jarolimek as influential in bringing about change at the city ["Failure to Yield," Feature, Nov 1, 2007].
"When those two tragedies happened, the attention and focus on that issue by hundreds of our commenters was so intense that it forced the mayor to get $200,000 to build those bike boxes," says Maus. "Our commenters built up the pressure on him to just do something, now."
"We try and listen to the conversations Portlanders are having, wherever they're having those conversations," responds Roy Kaufmann, a spokesman for Mayor Adams. "And more and more, those conversations are happening online."
You can download a copy of the full report HERE