Now you're a councillor

Now you're a councillor

A site for women councillors in Victorian local government

Good working relationships …

Alana Schetzer is Melbourne-based journalist and editor. She was a journalist at Fairfax Media for 10 years and writes extensively on social justice, gender equality and politics. She has taught media, writing and communications at The University of Melbourne and is a co-founder of Women in Media.

Local government plays an essential role not only in our democracy but of also in service delivery. Likewise, the media is an essential player in our political system as the fourth estate, a watcher of-sorts on how elected representatives perform and how ratepayer’s money is spent. Therefore, the relationship between journalist and councillor can be essential is ensuring readers (who are also voters) are fully informed on what is going across all aspects of their community.

While it may seem like the journalist-councillor relationship can be naturally combative, it has rarely been the case in mine and my colleague’s experience. A good working relationship between a journalist and councillor can be respectful, productive and beneficial to all. So don’t make assumptions that every journalist you meet is planning on putting words in your mouth or going to paint you as a villain; on the whole we’re actually a highly ethical group of individuals who have a genuine interest in reporting important stories to our communities.  Of course, the media and local government sometimes have different agendas – the media to expose what’s happening and the council may want to spin a positive angle on something less than flattering.

At the same time, journalists aren’t always chasing negative stories, they’ll also promote community events and achievements as part of a balanced newspaper.

Ultimately, what we both share is our desire to serve our communities; they who hold the power as readers and voters.

Here are some words of advice from my experience of working with councillors:

  • A newspaper or news magazine is a gateway to readers, who are also voters. Remember that.
  • If a journalist from your local publication hasn’t contacted you already, contact them.
  • Find out about deadlines and respect them.
  • Communicate in plain English. There are no awards for being a smarty pants if no one can understand what you’re saying. Keep that in mind when talking to one of us.
  • Don’t avoid questions or restrict information.
  • Readers are smart and they know when a politician is avoiding a question or trying to buck responsibility.
  • If you promise an exclusive to one journalist, don’t turn around and then give it to another. This is an ideal way to burn bridges.
  • Talk to journalists instead of releasing statements.