Hyper-Local Media. The 4th Branch of Gov2.0

SeeClickFix has been sitting in the cross-hairs of two very hot buzzwords recently: Gov20 and HyperLocal.

Both movements are being brought on by the great disruptor that is the Interwebs and both movements are faced with similar questions: What does it mean to have more participants? What value do those participants have and is the value of the original participant (journalist and public official) compromised by greater participation?

At the intersection of Gov and Media is Media’s responsibility to hold government accountable.  The way that responsibility is enacted shifts as Media is forced to be more resourceful and Gov is forced to be more transparent.  As the organism of traditional media is weekend financially by the growth of on-line news one of Journalism’s key functions, being a check on government,  faces a disruption as well. When more and more reporters are losing their jobs how can media properties maintain their function as a 4th branch of government?  Less Journalists means less people doing the investigation and collecting the news. This means that if media wants to continue to hold gov accountable they have to stay resourceful.

Below is a case study of how SeeClickFix is being used by Hyper Local Journalists to maintain their role in a Gov20 world.

Our Partner Doug Hardy, at the Journal Inquirer, has been using a SeeClickFix Pro account to acknowledge and track issues like speeding, downed power lines and unsafe pedestrian areas in the Hartford, CT region. Not only does the Journal Inquirer embed the SeeClickFix map, but Doug also follows up on issues himself and makes sure that they are being listened to by officials.

The Journal Inquirer introduced SeeClickFix to much of the Hartford region adding a layer of accountability to local gov that previously did not exist. Doug now uses the citizen reports to scoop stories on issues like traffic safety and other community concerns.

This kind of accountability has more back-up than a pen and a delivery route though. Doug’s new posse is a crowd of users that can speak and vote publicly on the issues he is reporting. Doug can not only report on the issue but he can display the raw data of citizen voices on SeeClickFix.

In East Hartford, CT it appears that this new form of accountability is quite effective at creating fixes. Doug was kind enough to let me post his article(The Journal Inquirer is participating in another experiment: a Paywall) on East Hartford and SeeClickFix below.

SEECLICKFIX: Problems getting solved in East Hartford
By Doug Hardy
Journal Inquirer
Published: Monday, October 26, 2009 11:52 AM EDT
Some good things have been happening as a result of your reports on the SeeClickFix portion of the Journal Inquirer’s Web site. Three issues have been solved recently in East Hartford, where Mayor Melody A. Currey and public works personnel have taken an active approach and decided to monitor SeeClickFix for your reports. This is a good thing for everyone, as you’ll see below.

“EH Citizen” reported that there has been a deer crossing sign covered in graffiti for more than five years on Oak Street near Farnham Drive.

“It’s an eyesore and you can’t even see the photo on the sign in an area where deer often cross to access Porter Brook. Is this fixable?” EH Citizen wrote, adding that the town had been notified years ago but the sign had yet to be scrubbed clean or replaced.

Fortunately, the East Hartford Public Works Department has built its own watch area on SeeClickFix — which you also can do for free if you want to get involved in solving problems in your community. Within 15 days of reporting the graffiti online, EH Citizen returned and posted this message: “Thanks so much this issue has been fixed. The sign was replaced and looks great now! Thank you!”

You can thank East Hartford for being on the ball. We didn’t need to ask on your behalf. Meanwhile, across town at Main Street and Silver Lane, the pedestrian crossing signal was reported to be too fast, leaving slow-moving folks at risk.

“For pedestrians and bicyclists crossing Main Street at Silver Lane, the time from when the icon turns white and the audible beep starts is barely 10 seconds,” ROC wrote. “This is a wide street, and even on a bike you barely make it. This traffic light should be lengthened so people can cross without fearing for their lives. It’s called a crosswalk for a reason, should favor the crosser.”

After suggesting that the state Department of Transportation be contacted directly, within about a month ROC reported that the signal time had been lengthened appropriately. Kudos for your effort, ROC.

A third issue that was closed in East Hartford was reported by Bob Hobbs — a dead tree was menacing the power lines on Bodwell Road near Burnside Avenue. He provided a photo. Hobbs posted the issue directly on East Hartford’s Web site — which is always advisable if you want anything to get done — and got a response from Public Works Director Billy G. Taylor:

“The tree is privately owned,” Taylor wrote. “Consequently, the town cannot simply lawfully remove it. Under authority given to me by town ordinances, I sent a letter to the owner of record ordering the tree’s removal. The letter has just been returned by the USPS marked ‘undeliverable.’ Having never removed a tree on private property without delivering the owner the notice required by ordinance, I do not know what authority I have to remove it. In any case, the Public Works budget is insufficient to allow removal of trees on private property and I do not have the authority under the town charter to overexpend the budget.”

So no progress there. Town records list three names on the property card, but I was told all three were renters.

Then we got some help from Jon Searles, an East Hartford resident whose brainflation.wordpress.com blog describes him as both a concerned citizen and chairman of the 6th District Committee of the East Hartford Republican Town Committee. He also is a Town Council candidate in the municipal election.

Searles either reported the tree directly to Connecticut Light & Power himself or he found an existing report. He provided a report number for CL&P’s Web site, and we then found that the utility company visited in September and noted that the tree was “overhanging the lines,” But the report then said, “RESOLUTION — No Trouble Found.”

Based on that, it didn’t look like CL&P was going to take action.

But about two weeks ago — and after more than 20 comments and e-mails between residents, town officials, and myself — Hobbs reported that the tree had been cut back and the lines were no longer threatened.

Somone had taken it upon themselves to chop off the top of the dead tree. Whoever you are, thanks for helping to improve the community.

Doug Hardy is an associate editor of the Journal Inquirer. He can be reached at dhardy (at)journalinquirer.com or 860-646-0500, ext. 305.
This is a true testimony to the magic of a system that allows for open communication and collaborative problem solving around public concerns. You can really see how media, industry, government and private citizens can work together to improve their communities:

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