A few months ago the web group at the ISC was approached by a local design firm to host and code checkthefence.us, a site meant to provide information about art put on the construction fence surrounding the Breuer Tower, a space for public comment on the construction, and an interactive Flash gadget where visitors could design their own wall.
This was right when the furor over the Breuer Tower demolition decision and the sales tax increase was at its peak; and, at least from my perspective, it was obvious that checkthefence.us would be a PR nightmare, a tax-payer funded waste of time drawing even more attention to the PR nightmare that the Breuer Tower [now for sale] already was. I wanted nothing to do with it, and though I wasn’t at the actual meeting with the folks, I did see the mockups of what they wanted, prior to. I was and still am under the impression that every aspect of this particular design project was ill-advised. I think we told them that if they already had the design and URL purchased, they didn’t need us to implement it. We didn’t hear back from them, so I thought it was dead in the water. Then as I hobbled to work earlier this week, I saw the URL stenciled on the side of the wall. Checked the site, essentially an under construction page with the County logo on it. The full site went live today. The wall is currently playbilled with Preserve/Conserve banners, the irony of which is either completely lost on those in charge of what goes on the wall or something a bit more frightening.
And the Office of Sustainability website that they say is coming soon? Don’t bet on it. The design has been done since the office was first launched, but I’ve spent months trying to get the necessary information to put on it. At one point we were asked to go with a theme like “Green County on a Blue Lake” and I had to point out that Cleveland already has a site like that.
I’m certain that posting this might get me in trouble, since talking like this with my coworkers often results in fearful looks on their part, but the whole thing is so ridiculous from my perspective that I can’t not share it. I’m at such a lowly position in the County’s hierarchy that I am meant to be neither seen nor heard. But when our department reads about County news in the Plain Dealer, instead of receiving the press releases internally, even a peon like me can see that there is a problem. Much of the time it is easy to do quite a bit of good web work completely under the radar, so it is frustrating when high-visibility cost-centers like checkthefence can’t be curtailed. I mean, I saw the mounds of hate email we received when we did a simple redesign of the County Home Page. I can’t imagine what the public comment section of checkthefence is going to generate. I bet only positive ones make it on the site itself. You can be sure they’re moderated.
I’ve been thinking about PR and tech a lot lately, and the conclusion I’ve reached is that if your message needs to be controlled and go through a spin cycle or two, you’ve got the wrong message or you’re going about its dissemination in the wrong way. There is no room for fear in public relations, especially on the internet. I like the way Chris Anderson, Editor-in-Chief of Wired thinks.