By Muzzling Public Safety Info On Twitter, Is The City Government Hurting Itself?
Sommer Mathis takes to the pages of the Atlantic Cities to talk about the decline of @dcfireems, the Twitter account for the District's fire department. On the removal of Pete Piringer, the fire department's public information officer, Mathis writes:
The hiring and firing of individual public information officers is the kind of story that only journalists care about. These are the people who reporters rely on to get back to us quickly with accurate information, and when they appear to lose their jobs for over-sharing with the media, it naturally rankles. Not only is it a sign that the current administration is interested in making it more difficult for reporters to do their jobs, but the best PIOs, like Piringer, tend to have personal relationships with the journalists they talk to everyday. Nothing can set off a wave of resentment across an entire press corps like the removal of a decent flack.
But this particular move by the District, to stem the tide of information coming out of the city's fire department, should alarm anyone who cares about transparency and responsiveness in local government. It's also part of a larger picture that's emerged over the last several months of the current administration's desire to keep crucial public safety information out of the hands of the public.
Piringer's @dcfireems tweets were useful in a more basic way, too. They painted a broad picture of the work that emergency respondents in D.C. do every day. From the frequent (and no longer tweeted) "Ped struck" and "Cyclist struck" messages to the notes about downed trees, it was a reminder that things in this city don't stop when your commute ends. It's a shame, that in the process of "protecting" itself, the city's government is making even its good work less visible.