checkthefence 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.

2 thoughts on “Juggernaut”

  1. Thanks for those notices, Jeff. I think say­ing that I’m speak­ing “truth to pow­er” [an emi­nent­ly overused phrase] is a bit much; but it is nice to notice that oth­ers are think­ing the same things.

    No com­ments have made it past the mod­er­a­tion on check­the­fence yet. I took one of the fall­en vinyl posters and taped it on my win­dow. The sen­ti­ment is appro­pri­ate no mat­ter what the source. I think they would have stuck up bet­ter if they were paper, but then there would be no remov­ing them.

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