Citing the advent of digital media and misinformation, members of the Missoula City Council on Wednesday considered funding an effort to enhance the city’s communications and outreach, particularly those related to ongoing initiatives.
The one-time budgetary request of roughly $100,000 would enable City Council to “get ahead” of public engagement, provide media briefs, post regularly to social media and prepare public presentations, among other things.
Council president Bryan von Lossberg said the modern communications landscape has shifted greatly in recent years, moving well beyond what he described as the “pre-Internet era of well-resourced local newspapers, local TV and radio coverage.”
He said citizens receive the majority of their news and government information from online sources, including social media platforms and online news sites “of various degrees of trustworthiness.”
“This modern communications landscape is ripe with misinformation and factual error,” he said. “Unchecked, misinformation and disinformation, both unintentional or intentional, erodes public understanding of, and trust in our local institutions.”
Von Lossberg didn’t mention any particular news site, publication or social media platform, though the city has often expressed frustration with several news sources and their presentation of incorrect or skewed information.
He said that frustration continues.
“I’ve long been frustrated with our communications approach and ability to engage, and I continue to feel strongly about that,” he said. “I would ask folks to think about this issue as we consider amendments to the budget and the resources identified in the mayor’s budget.”
The $100,000 budgetary request was included in Mayor John Engen’s executive budget, which he presented on Monday night. The request falls under “organizational excellence” and, if approved, would support the “modernization of our communications approach and provide funding to support the communication of specific city initiatives.”
The city has embarked a wide number of initiatives, though it rarely promotes them publicly. That has led to frustration among some council members who believe the work undertaken by the city, including its housing efforts, police reform and infrastructure goals, aren’t getting through to the public.
As a result, Von Lossberg and other council members believe the city is missing out on opportunities to engage with the public on various initiatives and arm the public with what council members described as factual information.
“I spend a huge amount of time communicating. A lot of times, it’s basic correction because there is a lot of misinformation out there from a variety of sources,” said council member Gwen Jones. “It goes to a larger communications issue in general. We’ve got some things to think about in the budget that are going in that direction. We’re always behind instead of ahead.”