Government media monitoring

Marisol Grandon, a colleague at the Home Office, has asked for some help answering the following question:

How do you see the role of government media monitoring developing, taking into account web developments and the changing media landscape?

I am not sure that I am knowledgeable enough about current monitoring practices, but I will give it a go.

Here is how wikipedia defines media monitoring:

Media monitoring is the activity of monitoring the output of the print, online and broadcast media….

… The services that media monitoring companies provide typically include the systematic recording of radio and television broadscasts, the collection of press clippings from print media publications, the collection of data from online information sources. The material collected usually consists of any media output that makes reference to the client, its activities and and/or its designated topics of interests.

Media monitoring is practically achieved by a combination of technologies — including audio and video recording, high speed text scanners and text recognition software — and human readers and analysts.

*For the purpose of this post I will ignore the offline/print media monitoring services, which would not necessarily change*

I am not sure that the methodology of online media monitoring will change too drastically either, although increasingly clever listening services, sophisticated search and easy to set up and use dashboards will make life easier for the Press Officers I am sure. Rather what is being ‘monitored’ would, or should, change.

At risk of putting the noses out of various ‘proper’ journalist friends and colleagues, citizen-generated content is becoming increasingly influential and can very quickly highlight, create or destroy any issue brought to the public attention.

When I read an article or post online, the article/post itself is incomplete for me until I have read the comments too. The comments, often lively debate, seem to set the subject more firmly in my head, and I am more likely to ponder on it and form an opinion – I may be influenced by the arguments tendered, or even by the number of comments – but whatever it is, it is certainly becomes more relevant to me than the article I read in The Guardian on the way into work – or whatever paper I happen to be reading 😉

The reason government (and I suspect any organisation) monitors anything is to:

  • know what is being said by whom about government business
  • watch for trends/hotspots
  • gauge the public mood on a subject

I am positive there are many more things, but to my simplistic mind these would be the main reasons.

With this in mind, monitoring online media becomes a slightly more tricky challenge for government. Because in order to really be fully informed, one must monitor traditional online press, blogs, comments, social networks, discussion forums… everything – but not just using a listening service, keeping an eye out for trigger words – rather using people who can understand the data and translate it into something that would be useful – cue the e-democracy cry.

Yet, as soon as I write this I get the uneasy feeling that by doing such a thing, it would be way too Big Brother and monitoring becomes more chilling a word, and more intrusive an activity.

So, I guess my question would be:

Does government have the right to monitor citizen journalism/citizen-generated content?

(If the answer is yes to that one, then I have a myriad more questions to ask about data protection and how that intellingence can be used)

8 responses

  1. Well now I am biased of course because I am doing some monitoring for Government, what I call ‘Conversation Audits’ so i have vested interest in saying, Yes Gov should be out listening around the Conversation Economy. What is clear to me is that they need to be doing it differently though. They need to get out of a quantitative, PR-driven metrics mentality, counting mentions and looking for openings. They need to have an in-depth understanding of language and emerging discourses. They need to be able to find Conversation Attractors (people, sure but also, spaces, relationships etc) and then build a relationship with them based on supporting them to build content relationships. Only then is monitoring useful because it develops understanding in Government, positions it as part of a relationship and therefore an active and positive partner in a relationship not an eavesdropper, an opportunist or a ‘communicator’. That only happens when the monitoring is built around the insights of semiotics, linguistics and discourse analysis because only then is the ‘monitoring’ feeling the multi-dimensionality of the conversations, the way they are evolving, the way the relationships are developing and the ways in which Government can contribute rather than butt in.
    I could go on… and doubtless will… Once I’ve taken a breath to listen.

  2. Gosh. Thanks both. A lot of food for thought there. My suggestion is that government employs someone to compile reports of what the biggest/most influential bloggers are saying on subjects. And yes, agree the word ‘monitor’ sounds a little sinister.
    And Euan Semple replied with a mere: “Ah, but that would be telling!”

  3. Marisol, I said I’d be back… I’m not sure about focusing on the “biggest/most influential bloggers”. This just then slips back into media monitoring rather than concentrating on the conversation (as attractor warping discursive space like a ball on a sheet of lycra…) Sometimes the most power-full conversations are the small ones between ordinary people with few friends, fans or followers. By simply bookmarking the Technorati 100 we are in danger of missing the small conversations which drive the conversation economy. Better I would argue to find the specific spaces for each issue we’re trying to talk about and mapping those spaces and small conversation relationships.

  4. Government must monitor online sources because it’s where the most authentic debates about public policy are taking place. I’d be surprised if most bloggers find this intrusive. You don’t publish a blog to protect your privacy. Although I suspect that people have a different relationship with social networks – although those are also much more difficult to monitor without the user’s consent.

    It is true that monitoring the most influential blogs misses the value of tracking and measuring the debate for qualitative data. However, for the sake of efficiency it’s important that government can prioritise.

  5. Sorry gang, I have been reading your comments and not responding as I wanted to see where this might go. But now it just seems rude!

    ‘Biggest most influential bloggers’ I would assume would already be included in the monitoring that is currently happening. As Matthew says, bloggers can’t publish without expecting to be read and analysed by anyone.

    Paul, you are right in what you say about the smaller conversations being where much of the interesting stuff is, that if I were a policy person I would be more interesting in watching.

  6. I think a key thing is that this whole trend – and it will become one as comms budgets are squeezed into effectiveness – does not get caught in an idea of monitoring and measuring but rather is seen and strategically planned in terms of ‘listening’ and engaging. Using my favourite metaphor of the party, you don’t go to a party and eavesdrop and take notes, you go, listen and if appropriate join in. And as you move around you learn stuff and integrate that into who you are and what you do. That’s only possible if you have a humbler attitude and an open mind. Gov needs to be listening but not so it can ‘test’ what it is doing but rather so it can see how the real world works and find the best place it can add to the chat at the Party as a welcome guest not a gatecrasher.

  7. My tuppence: It’s possible to separate out two different positive things that come from government media monitoring.

    The first is a better awareness of what matters to people, and this becomes more relevant as content becomes more user-driven. So agreeing about the idea of listening to small conversations as well as large ones.

    The second is around customer engagement. That is, joining in with the conversations when appropriate.

    Both of these would be very useful in my own area. However, the second is probably far more important as it brings some level of accountability to government and ensures that unwelcome news is not just ignored. I’m aware that senior figures in the relevant department are tracking my site, but getting them to openly engage is a very different matter. I suspect a lot of this is fear on a personal as well as departmental level.

    The obvious negative is control and chilling of people’s thoughts, but that is NOT the same as engaging with and if necessary disagreeing with people online.

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