This column was first published in the Sun Peaks Independent News.
By MEL ROTHENBURGER
The Thompson-Nicola Regional District board has held its annual inaugural meeting, chosen its chair and vice chair for the coming year, and begins work on what will undoubtedly be a busy agenda in the coming months.
Very little of what goes on in regular board meetings will be reported in mainstream media, and I see this as a problem.
A look at typical minutes will include the notation “Press: None” under the section that records who attended the board meeting. That’s because reporters seldom show up.
Occasionally, one will come for a few minutes before the meeting starts to get some quotes from directors on certain items from the agenda, then go back to the newsroom to write them up. Otherwise, there’s usually nobody at the press table.
It wasn’t always this way. Years ago, reporters from several local media would attend all the meetings. The fact that they always managed to find three or four items each to write about suggests there’s enough news material in an average TNRD meeting to make it worth their while.
Yet, ask a reporter why nobody from the media shows up anymore and he or she will likely begin by labeling TNRD meetings “boring.” Well, okay, but that’s the case with 80 or 90 per cent of any public-body meeting. You have to be there for the whole thing to get the stuff that’s newsworthy.
At a time when the broad news menu is ever-increasing, mainstream media don’t have as many reporters as they used to, so they assign them to cover easier, quicker news from sources that reliably deliver a headline every time — such as police, the courts, the Ajax project, provincial politics and City council.
Regional community media would be hard-pressed to send reporters to the TNRD anyway because of travel time and gas costs, so I point no fingers at them, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to write this column for each edition of the Sun Peaks Independent News. I try to write about issues of interest to SPIN readers but, admittedly, I’m not an unbiased source.
The fact that Kamloops-based media have largely forsaken the TNRD for all but the most tantalizing stories — bio-solids, directors’ pay raises, major economic announcements and so on — leaves the public in the dark about what this particular level of local government is doing most of the time.
The TNRD itself certainly does its best to be transparent, and the new communications/ engagement strategy helps ensure that. Issues, expenditures and policy decisions are open to public scrutiny. Let’s face it, though, not many people delve into the TNRD website for leisure reading.
Without the media sitting there at public board meetings, two things happen. One is that the people served by the TNRD simply don’t have a clear view of what this body — which spends their tax dollars — is doing. (Those folks, by the way, are major consumers of news and represent a significant audience for those same urban-centric news outlets.)
The other is that we directors are left to debate and make decisions in the comfort of an empty boardroom — and letting politicians at any level become too comfortable isn’t a good thing for democracy.