This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on May 20, 2011 8:43 AM. The previous post in this blog was City of Portland's head money guy steps down. The next post in this blog is Streetcar pushes cars off Lovejoy. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

E-mail, Feeds, 'n' Stuff

Friday, May 20, 2011

WW shines light on government public relations juggernaut

We've been griping for some time now about how much money government in Oregon spends on public relations officers, or "flacks" as they're known in the media trade. But rather than just whine about it, Willamette Week has started asking some hardball questions, and what they've found is just as we suspected:

We looked at the biggest local public agencies in the Portland area—the City of Portland, Metro, Multnomah County, Portland Public Schools, Oregon Health & Science University, TriMet and Portland State University. All told, they have a total of 84 PR reps on the public payroll. Together, they make a combined yearly salary of more than $6.2 million. That's an average of more than $75,000, taking into account several part-timers.
And of course, that's just the tip of the iceberg. First of all, those numbers are what the bureaucrats are admitting to -- who knows how many other staffers are crafting propaganda and calling it "planning" or "administration" or some such other name? And second, there are many other public agencies in these parts that have just as much p.r. pork, if not more. Part of the problem with Portland is that there are too many agencies -- too many unsupervised pots of money -- and there's public relations fat in just about every one.

The timing of the WW expose is a little odd: Its news editor and our friend, Hank Stern, recently quit to take a flack job at Multnomah County. But that's no reason not to love the story. May they expand it and whip it good in the weeks ahead.

Comments (15)

Do I remember something about legal constraints about what anyone in government can advocate for?

With this revelation we have just crushed the dreams of many in our local news rooms.

So much for career planning!

If we're talking in general about "outreach", there is some value in having (minimal) agency staff make sure the public knows about upcoming meetings, recent decisions, new grant opportunities, etc. However, I think at this point there are more public-sector mouthpieces than there are journalists in this city, and it's too easy for them or their bosses to have them cross the line from public information into public advocacy. Not to mention PR positions can be used for patronage (e.g., the Portland Water Bureau's platoon of Tweeters) or to buy off potential critics (e.g., Amy Ruiz).

This sad state of affairs reflects, among other things, the dismal economics of journalism these days and the fact that around here government is the only significant "industry".

This is rather like the schools with all of their layers of management, and positions such a grief counselors.
Those folks all will tell you they are over worked and under paid.
There is just too much "management".
They should tale a look at the children working in various mines around the world for less than a dollar a day.
Now that is over worked and under paid!

Those PR folks sure jump into defense mode quick: "I'm not in PR, I'm in 'public involvement.'"


Fantastic job on this issue Jack. The PR brigade even when fully ided is the tip of a yet bigger iceberg -- what a Green Party blogger in my neck of the woods refers to as the taxpayer subsidized non-profits and the publicly funded poverty pimps who reflect back at powers that be the input that they want to hear. No doubt there was some good done when this all started out, but it's gotten totally out of hand.

Imagine if money was taken out of your paycheck every month and handed to Fred Meyer to push new products on you.

That's basically what this is. Not only is local government constantly pushing expensive boondoggles, but we pay them to manufacture propaganda targeting ourselves, to convince us that the new spending is a good idea.

"WES is working!"

It would be interesting to break the information down into categories.

What is the expenditure on PR and marketing to promote cycling as Portland's preferable mode of transportation?

How much money is spent to lure "millions" coming into our area?

How much is spent to propagandize our own population to accept certain agendas?
What proportion is spent towards children to accept certain agendas?

How much of local taxpayer money is not only spent to promote pet projects here, but spent now to promote our "planners" and/or "developer's" concepts in OTHER parts of the country?

Just examples, I am sure others could add questions.

How much money does TriMet spend to just simply advertise the existing services (remember that the vast majority of it consists of bus routes)?

How much money has TriMet spent to babble that it's "#1 Transit"?

How much money did TriMet spend plastering "WES Works!" signs on buses that operate out of Powell Garage and would almost never actually serve a WES station?

How much money does TriMet spend to promote new light rail projects?

How much money does TriMet spend to promote bicycling (which does not even remotely tie into a TriMet mission)?

How much money does the city spend to promote diversity?


This month, the New York-based journalism nonprofit ProPublica published a report about the staggering growth of the public-relations industry. They found that the ranks of PR reps have surged by more than 30 percent in private public-relations agencies alone. At the same time, ProPublica noted, American newsroom employment shrank by about 27 percent in recent years.

No wonder the public gets so much propaganda.
Imagine investigative reporting has been reduced down to a mere percentage, if allowed at all.

I think the City needs so many PR flackies to try to make us all feel better about living here. They'd better hire more; it's not working.

If you think about it, maybe it's to be expected.

After all, if you were a large real estate development corporation like this one that's dba City of Portland, you'd need a lot of marketing people as well as all the planners, maybe even an army of financial wheeler/dealers, especially when there are several hundred thousand squatters in the way.

Say hello to the ugly side of Twitter, Facebook and the Internet and PR. If you get a politician who is good at manipulating media he can convince the weak-minded that they exist in an alternate reality.

For example, if certain mayors who are sadly deficient in making their city inclusive of the needs of all with good schools, good roads and affordable fees/utilities decide to run their pet projects instead. Now we can take the half-truths and repeat them frequently and over many media.

THis serves the purpose of distracting the sheeple from their inadequacies and makes it look like they are helping other people than, oh say, developers.

Re-read 1984. Big Brother had two-way TVs in every room and corner to communicate.

Merely repeating the same falsehoods frequently and with greater amplitude doesn't make them real.

....especially when there are several hundred thousand squatters in the way.

Mr. Grumpy,
I have commented about the agenda of redoing every inch of our city, but you have hit the nail on the head.
The plan looks to be to (redo) replace every citizen of our city here as well that do not go along with or cannot financially survive the plans. Those who adhere to the "vision", those content to live in subsidized units and the elite living in protected enclaves will be able to remain after the agenda has transformed our once beloved "City of Roses" to what? It has turned into a "City of Thorns" for many.

Clicky Web Analytics