No10 proposal to replace press offices with a blog

The FT is getting all excited by apparent ‘proposals’ by Downing Street’s shaven-headed, shoeless strategy director Steve Hilton to abolish maternity leave and suspend consumer protection laws, in the interests of kick-starting the economy. Personally, I can’t believe either was suggested seriously: sounds more like the start of a brainstorming session.
But I can’t help smiling at one of his other reported ideas: ‘replacing hundreds of government press officers with a single person in each department who would convey all necessary information via a blog.’ – an idea which Guido Fawkes calls ‘half decent‘. I’d go further.
The fact is, it’s the logical conclusion to a process which is kinda happening already – and which started three and a half years ago. We already have Downing Street plus three Cabinet-level departments running their websites, their main public-facing presence, on (what used to be) a blogging platform, namely WordPress.
And frankly, any department which isn’t already running its News section using a blogging platform is missing a trick. I guarantee it would be easier to use, and would provide a much better service to the customer, than whatever Big Ugly Corporate CMS they’re using.
I’ve argued for a decade plus that the web would ultimately destroy press office work as we have known it: specifically, the day-to-day mechanical stuff, and most of the mundane telephone enquiries. I don’t think that means sacking every press officer: but it would certainly redefine the role of those press officers who remained, to become ‘press relations’ people. (Or is that the role fulfilled primarily – and arguably, correctly – by Special Advisors?)
Take a look at the website for COI’s News Distribution Service – and tell me why this shouldn’t be a WordPress multisite. With COI’s demise imminent, now would be the perfect time to rebuild it. And if it needs to do stuff that isn’t available ‘out of the box’ – that’s where people like Puffbox come in. The answer is almost certainly, yes it can. And yes, we’d be delighted.
If it’s true that ‘three-quarters of [Hilton’s] ideas fail to get off the drawing board’, this is one which – in some shape or form – definitely will. In fact, it already has.

One thought on “No10 proposal to replace press offices with a blog”

  1. Having worked with Steve, he floats very many ideas with the aim of starting a debate or getting a reaction. The suggestion about HMG press officers (not wide of the mark) was made in the context of determining priorities around the spending review – i.e. should cutting comms people come before cuts in police, council workers, military etc. This sounds like a point of view that Steve’s critics today (such as Telegraph/Mail) would normally support. Government press offices have grown largely in response to demands from the media and the feeling that all publications, large and small, need to be given a rolls royce service. A government which truly believed in openness and transparency should be publishing as much content as practicable simultaneously to the media and the public, using it’s own channels. As you say Simon, these tools exist and are being used in a mainstream way. When in Government, I was always pushing for full real-time publication of material handed to lobby correspondents (mostly so-called ‘lobby lines’). There will (sadly) always be a need to brief selected journalists but most of this is already done by SpAds anyway, not civil servants. It’s a shame that certain elements prefer to spend their time briefing against Steve in a personal and poisonous way rather than debating these issues constructively.

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