A suggestion to hire an in-house reporter to cover the city was met with some resistance Wednesday, but Reno City Council members said they’d consider growing the existing communications department and look at more ways to reach the public when reviewing next year’s budget.
Councilwoman Jenny Brekhus said there’s a need for more regular objective, fact-based reporting than what’s coming out of the press. She cited Portland, Ore.-based Metro News as an example of what Reno could do and noted stories aren’t subject to approval by government staff or elected officials.
“Some people think it’s rather controversial to have that in-house reporter,” Brekhus said. “But their point is that, ‘Well, the media coverage has been cut back and we put flags on it saying it’s city produced.’”
The city communications staff already puts out pre-lights and highlights of Council meetings and writes newsletters. Mayor Hillary Schieve noted the department is stretched thin but was successful in getting 500 people to the last State of the City address, involving the public in the master plan update and putting on the Reno Citizens Institute.
City Manager Andrew Clinger indicated to Brekhus that expanding the communications staff isn’t possible now and that the present staff is overworked.
“It sounds like part of your request is to look into what resources are available. I can tell you they are tapped out,” Clinger said. “So if there’s something new we want to do, we’re going to have to have them stop doing something else.”
Some constituents might crave background information and detail that’s sometimes missing from news stories but others might prefer face-to-face meetings and that could be a better use of resources, noted Councilwoman Neoma Jardon.
“My concern is that we may spend a lot of staff time creating all the background and data, and then it’s going to get truncated down for reporting reasons where it doesn’t get reported anyway,” Jardon said.
Brekhus requested two weeks earlier that the possibility of an in-house reporter be placed on the Council agenda. Feedback on social media has been mostly negative.
“Not a completely uncommon request. North Korea has been doing this for years…,” wrote Adam Khan on Twitter.
“I have some concern about the specific direction and tactics that are sort of implied in this,” Councilman David Bobzien said. “At the same time, I am sensitive to part of what is generating the councilwoman’s suggestion. There’s always the need for more information, more facts and more detail in the true context in some of the biggest decisions we’re making.”
At the end of the discussion, Brekhus withdrew her request.