Tuesday, February 02, 2010

News? Public Relations? Front page ad?

iPhone helps report street-level woes

In The Press Effect, the authors cite Douglas Cater who called the press the "fourth branch of government" (p. 95). This front-page feature article in today's Boston Globe represents the media's complicated relationship with government and is also a good example of multiple layers of meaning and benefit that an article like this can represent and provide.
On the surface, this article is about a new iPhone app called "Citizens Connect" that allows residents of Boston to identify "street-level" problems and alert local government to public maintenance needs. Very cool! The article includes a giant color map of the mobile reports that have been made since the app was launched in October.
The article also serves as a positive public relations tool for Mayor Menino, as it explains that the creation of this app was an initiative of the mayor's office, (despite Menino's refusal "to use email or allow voice-mail at City Hall.") [What?! and he was elected for a 5th term??!! anyway...] The placement of the article as the lead story on the front page, with color photos and graphics on the front as well as inside pages, gives the initiative prominence and importance. One has to acknowledge that in addition to the "news" value of a story like this--and the initiative IS great, who can deny it--there is also great benefit for the mayor and to the city government in such a positive story about what they are doing to solve the city's problems. On this level, (propaganda?) it would not surprise me if the entire content of this story was written up in a press release by the mayor's office, with the few quotes sprinkled through the article representing the reporter's contribution to the story.
And who else benefits from such praise? iPhone, of course. This app is a "public service" that only works on one particular type of equipment. Poor me, without an iPhone! I cannot do my civic duty to report the pothole I have to jump across to catch the bus! "It gives me this feeling of being instantly gratified," says Heather Sears. "I feel like I'm armed and helpful, because I've got this tool and I can make an instant difference." Suddenly, my ability to be a gratified, helpful citizen who makes a difference is impeded by the lack of an appliance.
I want instant gratification. I'd better run out and buy an iPhone.

No comments: