Congratulations to Jimmy Leach, a very deserving winner of this year’s New Media Age award for the greatest individual contribution to new media. If you aren’t in government circles, you may well not have heard of him; he’s the Head of Digital Comms at No10, and is arguably the man responsible for the e-petitions website, Tony Blair on YouTube, and various other unexpected innovations from Downing Street direction.
But I can’t help feeling the official citation misses the key reason(s) why he deserves it. As I’ve hinted before, Jimmy’s single biggest contribution has been in setting precedents. He has (or rather, had?) a direct line to the most important man in the country, and if TB said it was OK to do something, there’s really nobody ‘higher up’ who could overrule him. So Jimmy is free to do all sorts of radical things which most Ministries (with maybe one honourable exception) would typically strangle at birth.
Standard Whitehall mentality is that it’s only acceptable to do something innovative if someone else has already done it. (Which, of course, is a contradiction in terms, but anyway…) And if the ‘someone else’ happens to be the almighty Downing Street, all reticence disappears. Suddenly there’s no need to fear a call from the most powerful office in the land, asking what the hell you thought you were doing. If you post your Minister’s stuff on YouTube, in the same way that No10 posted theirs, what can go wrong? (And if it does go wrong, at least No10 will probably be stuffed too.)
Plus of course, don’t lose sight of an incredibly important part of Jimmy’s work: it hasn’t included a relaunch of the main No10 website. Most of it is just well-produced content, dropped into whatever CMS they have to hand. The video stuff uses external resources – a commercial supplier, and YouTube. (The petitions thing, admittedly, was a special case.) It’s all doable, no matter how bad your existing CMS is.
PS: Quick note on that other digital pioneer, new Foreign Sec David Miliband. Guido reckons he will be continuing with his blog. No surprise there: as I wrote here nearly a year ago, it was always a Miliband thing rather than a departmental thing. But I haven’t seen any signs of movement just yet, and it certainly isn’t something the FCO was factoring into its immediate plans, ahead of his arrival.