Public Utility Agencies, Local Press, and Civic Engagement

Posted on: April 12th, 2017 by Peggy Gallos

The news business in New Jersey has changed. In many instances, local news has migrated to online platforms: NJ Arts, NJ Spotlight, or Politico NJ. TapInto.net operates about 60 NJ franchise sites. In my own town, the owner of a local B&B faithfully updates a “good news” Facebook page. People get news from Twitter and other platforms. Meanwhile, broadsheets and tabloids are declining. Staff of newspapers has been cut and cut. According to the NJ Press Association website, there are 16 dailies, 12 group weeklies, and 15 independent weeklies, far fewer than there used to be. Throughout this transformation, local news has suffered.

That’s not only bad for the journalists, press workers, and advertising staff who work in local news. It is unfortunate for local government, too. Without a doubt my view is influenced by that fact that I once worked in local news. But in my current role as someone who speaks on behalf of local clean water and solid waste agencies, I am more convinced than ever that the decline in the availability of local news is not good for local government. I saying this knowing full well that news coverage is a mixed bag. AEA member organizations have been unfavorably or inaccurately covered by local news media. Stories about misdeeds in authorities are certainly fair game, but an unfortunate side effect of them is that they shape perception and reflect badly on the many, many local elected and appointed officials and employees who are honest, professional and dedicated.

News coverage may not always be comfortable, but it is useful–even vital — for local water/solid waste agencies. Local media connects local agencies to local people who depend on their services. It provides platforms for telling about good work. A recent Pew Research Center study found that civically engaged people are more likely to value and use local news sources. Civically engaged people are the ones most likely to take Girl Scouts on a tour of a plant or ask questions about the mayor’s plan to sell a system to a corporation.

Civic engagement coupled with local news coverage changed and deepened the dialogue when Evesham Township was considering dissolving its authority. Dennis Palmer, executive director of Landis Sewerage Authority (LSA) in Vineland, has made it a years-long practice to cooperate with local reporters and make himself and his staff available to them. Local media has enabled Palmer to show the commit to efficiency and innovation of the commissioners who oversee the authority. He heightens the community’s awareness of its water and sewer system through local poster contests for children that are covered in the local paper. When the mayor held secret discussions about dissolving the authority, Palmer held press conferences and issued news releases to tell the LSA perspective and to clarify inaccuracies. The local press was instrumental in his effort to build consensus. He put forward fiscally sound proposals that addressed the city’s needs without fixing an asset that wasn’t broken to begin with.

So my advice to AEA member authorities or any local government entity is to keep in touch with the civically engaged people in your community by engaging with local news media. Subscribe to newspapers. Seek out local news sources online. Issue news releases. Engage social media about important civic questions such as clean water. Encourage coverage. Take journalists on tours of facilities. Discuss local services and needs with them.

The press is taking some hard hits lately. That’s too bad. A free press promotes transparency and public dialogue. It’s one of the fundamentals of democracy–whether that democracy is being lived out in Evesham, Vineland, Trenton or Washington, D.C.

 

 

 

 

Public Utility Agencies, Local Press and Civic Engagement

Posted on: April 12th, 2017 by Peggy Gallos

The news business in New Jersey has changed. In many instances, local news has migrated to online platforms: NJ Arts, NJ Spotlight, or Politico NJ. TapInto.net operates about 60 NJ franchise sites. In my own town, the owner of a local B&B faithfully updates a “good news” Facebook page. People get news from Twitter and other platforms. Meanwhile, broadsheets and tabloids are declining. Staff of newspapers has been cut and cut. According to the NJ Press Association website, there are 16 dailies, 12 group weeklies, and 15 independent weeklies, far fewer than there used to be. Throughout this transformation, local news has suffered.

That’s not only bad for the journalists, press workers, and advertising staff who work in local news. It is unfortunate for local government, too. Without a doubt my view is influenced by that fact that I once worked in local news. But in my current role as someone who speaks on behalf of local clean water and solid waste agencies, I am more convinced than ever that the decline in the availability of local news is not good for local government. I say this knowing full well that news coverage is a mixed bag. AEA member organizations have been unfavorably or inaccurately covered by local news media. Stories about misdeeds in authorities are certainly fair game, but an unfortunate side effect of them is that they shape perception and reflect badly on the many, many local elected and appointed officials and employees who are honest, professional and dedicated.

News coverage may not always be comfortable, but it is useful–even vital — for local water/solid waste agencies. Local media connects local agencies to local people who depend on their services. It provides platforms for telling about good work. A recent Pew Research Center study found that civically engaged people are more likely to value and use local news sources. Civically engaged people are the ones most likely to take Girl Scouts on a tour of a plant or ask questions about the mayor’s plan to sell a system to a corporation.

Civic engagement coupled with local news coverage changed and deepened the dialogue when Evesham Township was considering dissolving its authority. Dennis Palmer, executive director of Landis Sewerage Authority (LSA) in Vineland, has made it a years-long practice to cooperate with local reporters and make himself and his staff available to them. Local media has enabled Palmer to show the commitment to efficiency and innovation of the commissioners who oversee the authority. He heightens the community’s awareness of its water and sewer system through local poster contests for children that are covered in the local paper. When the mayor held secret discussions about dissolving the authority, Palmer held press conferences and issued news releases to tell the LSA perspective and to clarify inaccuracies. The local press was instrumental in his effort to build consensus. He put forward fiscally sound proposals that addressed the city’s needs without fixing an asset that “ain’t broke” — the well-run, and efficient sewerage authority.

So my advice to AEA member authorities or any local government entity is to keep in touch with the civically engaged people in your community by engaging with local news media. Subscribe to newspapers. Seek out local news sources online. Issue news releases. Engage social media about important civic questions such as clean water. Encourage coverage. Take journalists on tours of facilities. Discuss local services and needs with them.

The press is taking some hard hits lately. That’s too bad. A free press promotes transparency and public dialogue. It’s one of the fundamentals of democracy–whether that democracy is being lived out in Evesham, Vineland, Trenton or Washington, D.C.

Exhibitors are a Source of Info and Advice at AEA Conference

Posted on: March 31st, 2017 by Peggy Gallos

The AEA spring conference (“snowed” out in March) will be held April 25-26 at Caesar’s, Atlantic City. One of the best things about this event is the exhibit area, where attendees can get advice and information, and exhibiting businesses can make connections with decision-makers. This year’s exhibitors include: All Covered, BCM Engineers*, EMEXMott MacDonaldMaser ConsultingNJM Insurance Company, NJ’s Clean Energy Program/(Honeywell), PSI Process & Equipment/Div., Pumping Services Inc., Suburban Consulting Engineers, Inc., and Solid Waste Association of North America. Executive directors and other eligible attendees who participate in the “Attendee Connection” program will be included in a drawing for a special door prize.

Speakers

Daniel Fagin

AEA is welcoming Pulitzer Prize winner Dan Fagin, Prof. Fagin wrote Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation, which tells the story of drinking water contamination in that Ocean County town. He will discuss the story, its aftermath, and environmental journalism. Other speakers will discuss preparing the next generation of managers, and attendees will hear about a wastewater resource recovery project at Rahway Valley SA. The DEP will be on hand to discuss emerging contaminants, and Monroe Township utility department representatives will discuss a basin transfer project. Redevelopment, connection fee reform, and the work of the AEA NJPDES Committee will be the subject of presentations Wednesday morning. The agenda closes with presentations on energy and the recycling market.

Recognition

AEA will hold its annual awards luncheon Wednesday, 4/26. This year we will be honoring Toms River MUA, Somerset Valley Regional SA, Hamilton Township MUA, Cape May County MUA, Passaic Valley SC, and Atlantic County UA. New this year: a recognition ceremony for the men and women who have completed the Environmental Professional Development Academy.

ICYMI

March registrations will be carried forward for the April dates. For more info, including about new registrations, visit our home page.

*Links indicate AEA member organizations.