I recently took part in an event put together by the Fraser Valley Current – a sister publication to the New West Anchor. It was a zoom interview, but the FVC opened up the zoom room to their readers. The theme was an interview with two Mayors who started a municipal bloggers. You can see the entire hour-long conversation here, including some surprising nods to Jordan Bateman.
It was a fun, off-the-cuff conversation, and at no time was it Official City Communications or the opinions of the City, Council, or anyone else. I emphasize that, yet again, because this interview came at the same time I am thinking about the role of Social Media in this the role of Mayor. After a year, I am ready to make some changes. Here’s some background.
Back in 2010 when I started, blogging was a thing people did. It seems to be a bit archaic now, with Podcasts and Newsletters and TikToks filling the void. The #NewWest of the late ‘naughts was a pretty active community on-line, and for the most part in a really positive community-building way, the blog I started fit right in, it was about the local community, about environmental issues, and about politics. Through it, and Tenth to the Fraser and a few other media, I was able to connect with a great community of folks just trying to make their corner of the community more fun and interesting.
In 2014 when I was elected, I was told by some more senior political gatekeepers in the community that I was going to have to stop all that. That it was inappropriate and politically dangerous. What if everything I write comes back to haunt me? But this was my on-line community, I had made many meaningful connections with people, some who volunteered and helped get me elected – how could I abandon them? So I kept blogging, though less frequently now as I am too busy. There is also the more difficult balance now about how I present myself personally, and as a representative of the City.
Problem is, when you are a city councillor, you can say “this is not the opinion of Council, and I don’t represent the City.” You obviously don’t want to say untrue things, and the council Code of Conduct requires you not actually undermine or mischaracterize a decision of Council. But when you are Mayor, you Have to layer on the role as spokesperson for the City and for the Council – it is much harder to make clear for the public when you are speaking on behalf of the City, on behalf of Council, on behalf of the Police Board, or just expressing a personal opinion.
Then there is legacy. I’ve been blogging for 14 years, thousands of posts. Deleting everything I wrote in the past might be the political expedient thing to do, like a notable local former political blogger has done more than once (and wow the Wayback Machine offers some nuggets there!). There are probably old posts I regret, or have changed my position on, but in my mind it is better to keep those there and show where I have changed or evolved than it is to hide from it. I just have to hope that people respect leaders willing to be an open book and talk about their evolution. The world has changed a lot in the last 14 years; if none of your opinions have changed in that time, you would have to be terrifyingly resistant to new information.
So the Blog will stay, and it will stay as it has kind of evolved: relatively straight-forward reporting on what happened at council, with occasional forays into longer-term strategic thinking and major policy stuff. For all the reason listed above, I am going to try to keep it less political, or at least less partisan, than in the past, though it will always be from my personal viewpoint, so “objectivity” is not guaranteed. I have no staff to write this for me, so it will be inconsistently copy edited and my own voice. You are probably used to it by now.
I am also making some changes in my Social Media. They have been brewing for a while, so I may as well pull the trigger. After something like 12 years and 30,000 posts, I am finally giving up on the Site Formerly Loved as Twitter. I’m a bit disappointed, because there are still many good people I connect with through there, but they are being increasingly drowned out of my feed by the porny spambots and alphanumerically named fascists (with significant overlap between), and even my gratuitous use of the “mute” button and blocking all bluechecks has not improved the experience. Instead, I am over where the Sky is Blue (search for PJNewWest). That is mostly social fun and local stuff for me, though I will occasionally use it to post updates on my life and blogging.
I am not (yet) leaving Facebook, but will continue not engaging much over there. I may post there once in a while, and it still has a value to connect with family and friends not living around here. The ad and spam saturation is brutal, and with legitimate news stripped from the site, the utility for information sharing has really declined. I have also started to curate my feed as I have recently found a few sites re-posting my posts and permitting a type of commenting that is not just offensive (I’m a big boy, I can take it), but in violation of the City’s social media policy ad all good taste. I don’t have time to sift through and find where these are, so best to avoid the trouble at the start my limiting access to some administrators who are lax in their administration, recognizing it looks to some like I am “censoring” them. Ultimately, it is a personal Facebook page, not a City asset, so I’ll deal with it the way my time, energy, and sense of propriety permit.
I also post occasionally on Instagram, and it is a pretty positive space, but I don’t particularly like the interface, and find it not a great space for conversations. So mostly post-and-ignore. I am also of the age where TikTok is not recommendedm and I am comfortable with that.
Finally, I am starting a new practice to compliment the Blog: a newsletter. If you sign up these will arrive in your inbox every week or two. First will be out in the next week or so.
My goal here is to talk about things that are happening in the City and my job as Mayor, as far from “Official City Communications” as I can get. These will be written by me, so they only represent me and not the opinions of anyone at the City (or anywhere else) except myself. My reasoning is that this is a medium where people “invite themselves in” more than the Blog or social media which are out there for innocents to drive-by. This frees me up to be a little more frank with my opinions and ideas, and even get a bit salty at times. We will see how it evolves, but I might dive deeper into politics from a more partisan lens.
If this sounds interesting to you, go here and sign up. If you are not comfortable with sauce I spill in the newsletter, I invite you to unfollow, and I won’t bother you with this stuff so you can still get the more straight goods here at the Blog.
As always, your access to me as the Mayor is not limited to this on-line world. You can email me at pjohnstone@NewWestCity.ca. You can come by Council and delegate. You can stop me on the street and say Hi, or drop by my booth when I set it up at community events. And I never stop doorknocking, so maybe I’ll see you on your porch. The real world is out there folks, not here on line.