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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Metro "reporter" cuts loose in off hours

We wrote a bit yesterday about Nick Christensen, the fellow whom Portland's Metro government has hired as its in-house "reporter." We allowed as how we didn't think this was all that worrisome a development, although we did wonder whether he might have a conflict of interest down the road as the president of the Lents Neighborhood Association.

But then somebody steered us to this bombastic piece that he wrote last week on BlueOregon. If he were a Metro public relations officer, he probably wouldn't have been allowed to do that -- surely Metro policy forbids its spokespeople from speaking out so forcefully on public issues. But as a "reporter," he is free to do so? It just doesn't hold together.

Several folks have testified that Christensen is a capable, thoughtful, fair-minded guy, and we have no reason to dispute that. But his position raises so many issues, we can't see how he'll survive in it for long.

Comments (19)

According to this he's been in the position since September 2010.

I agree that the position is weird but I'll tell you this--the guy puts the actions that take place at Metro in plain english which is not the norm.

I like the ad running down the side of the article for a video game with the pitch "Let the Bullet Decide".

Here's the link from the banner if it isn't still up:

Does make me question how you can claim rhetoric has no affect on people, an individual is crazy or not, but violent or sexual music/movies/video games does.

To me, Jack, the implication of your question is, to what extent does an employer "own" an employee? We can all agree that duing work hours, at one's desk, etc., the employer has the right to set limits on behavior. But aren't we getting painfully close to serfdom when we deem it acceptable for employers to "allow" employees, or even contractors, to do things outside the workplace?

Obviously, committing illegal acts like child abuse, or whatever, would be reason for an employer to get involved in someone's outside life, but I'm worried about the direction we're taking when we question the right of someone to write on a political blog on their own personal time.

When you are an employee of a government body that establishes law that citizens must follow (often without the use of a public election), your actions rightfully are held to a higher standard because you must be able to keep your personal beliefs out of the government's - and thus, your's and mine - business.

This guy is not just some paper-pushing bureaucrat in some 5th floor backoffice. This is the public face of Metro. The guy that writes what Metro wants spoken, the guy that takes public meeting announcements, public notices, and anything else that Metro does - and makes it public.

He is public. Anything he says is public. And when he gets on a biased discussion forum and posts stuff with his name on it - as much of his Metro work also has his name - he has a responsibility to ensure that there is absolutely no doubt that the two are interconnected...or he must accept as a consequence of his job choices, that he needs to make personal choices NOT to engage in public discussion which could affect the ability of him to do his job.

It is a choice. He made the choice. He accepted the choice. His "rights" are not being trampled upon. He can very well turn in his resignation to Metro, and regain whatever "rights" he wants to enjoy. But he choose to work in a very public office within government; therefore he must sleep in the bed which he made.

Metro is a hideous government bureaucracy. It's put much of economy in cement shoes, and yet, it continues to push its failed plans.

Metro having a reporter is a step towards government mind control. It's a slippery slope which should be avoided.

And Blue Oregon doesn't allow you to comment unless you have a Facebook account, because they are afraid you might say something mean.

It's looks more and more that the so called Left is much more comfortable living in a Nanny state- as long as they get to be the nannies.

Increasingly, I am becoming completely estranged from Portland's predominate morality/political class.

All I can do is vote, and eventually, move.

For 27 years my voice was muted as I represented both government agencies and non-profits. It goes with the territory. Sure, you can share your opinions with friends and family, but to post something publicly about a political issue, local or national, was a big no-no. No letters to the editor, no op-ed pieces (unless you were ghost-writing for an elected), no blogging, no opinion on anything at anytime. It's just part of the job.

The two claims made by this blog over the past couple days are a little confusing to me.

Claim 1: Nick is obviously going to be metro’s lackey now, because they employ him.
Claim 2: Nick is doing things that would infuriate Metro if he were a PR person (a lackey?), so he must be, like, a reporter or something.

You say that his dual position “doesn’t hold water” – what exactly do you mean by that “insert your own meaning here cliché”? The position exists, so, much like a glass can hold water when it exists, your assertion doesn’t really say anything (but it sure sounds self-righteous and indignant!).

How about I use this giant blank and substitute my own meaning? First, newspapers are biased, and people seem to realize this. http://www.allbusiness.com/reports-reviews-sections/polls-surveys/13040646-1.html

Second, if no one trusts newspapers, then, by extension, they don’t trust reporters.

Thus, if a reporter, who isn’t to be trusted, is put into a position where there might be a “conflict of interest” – why is there a difference to the majority of people?

Yet there obviously is a difference. Maybe it is the public payroll. Should a person who is on the public payroll be allowed to voice his or her opinion on public matters?
Oh snap – at the point where a public employee isn’t allowed to voice his or her opinion on a political issue without drawing hypocritical, hypercritical comment, well, I’ll not mention the obvious Ad Hitlerum.

And BTW,Phil P., putting technical, policy and bureaucratic jargon into plain english and helping the public understand what government does and how it impacts their life, is exactly what a public relations professional or information officer does. An embedded "journalist" paid for by the agency he/she is covering is no longer a journalist - they are in the public relations business.

Mary Volm's exactly correct. But I think this is just a matter of semantics. The Metro "reporter" is nothing more than a public information officer, and Metro should have made that clear. Metro's fault is not calling the PR spade a PR spade. (One state agency I worked for labeled my job as "Special Projects Director" - but I was a PIO.)
There's nothing inherently wrong with government PR - sheesh, how are we to learn what's going on otherwise (other than bojack,etc.)? But there's no question that many agencies have bloated PR departments. And there's no question that that thousands - or even millions - could be saved by cuts. But, think about it: If government agencies don't have people - paid - to inform the public of their actions, then who's going to do it? I love the 5th Estate; I was a member for several decades.
But, these days, I don't get my news from the 5th Estate nearly as much as I do from Jack and his fellow bloggers.

From The Oregonian article: "Metro's communications director, concedes Christensen's reporting is "definitely public relations" rather than journalism, but defends the experiment. In an era of strained budgets and public cynicism, he says, government has an obligation to find innovative ways to provide information. "

And Blue Oregon doesn't allow you to comment unless you have a Facebook account, because they are afraid you might say something mean.

Lots of people say mean things all the time on BlueOregon. No problem with that at all.

What we do want is for people to own their words. Want to say something mean? Go right ahead. But the person you're talking about should know who you are.

Yeah, it's so interesting listening to the same 10 people now Kari. Yawn.

Speaking of Metro, there is a vacancy in District 6:

Metro, unlike the state, the county, and the City of Portland, is unusually solvent, having grown fat on exorbitant garbage fees as well as the exhibition of live, caged animals. High salaries for Mr. Middaugh and Mr. Christensen, each in his way recycled material, should not be unexpected in such an artificial, perhaps obsolescent, authority.

Kari - If you think that everyone on Facebook uses their real name, guess again. Anyone whose employers (present or future) have made it clear that what you do online on your own time is their concern, knows enough to create online identities. My real name FB account is a shell so people from my past can find me. The account I use day to day is under my pen name.

First, newspapers are biased, and people seem to realize this.

Most newspapers are also privately owned.

Some people are just unmoved by hope. Even audacious hope.


Please don't tell Kari that some of the regulars on Blue Oregon might actually be "fake" personalities.

Recall that he is an internet business professional, and surely knows how to verify internet identities. /snark off.

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