A weird thing happened yesterday when I asked Premier Kathy Dunderdale about a $53,000 budget allocation for a social media manager in her office. I think she offered me a job. And then, in the same breath, she said I was also working for the NDP.
I'm pretty sure she was joking, but the thing got a bit of attention on Twitter, and I promised to write up a blog post on it, so here we go.
On Wednesday, a few of the reporters up at the House wanted to talk to Dunderdale about the federal auditor general's report, that raises serious concerns about the national search and rescue system. Typically, when reporters want to speak to the premier, or any cabinet minister we talk to the premier's press secretary, and give her a general idea of what we want to ask the premier. (Not specific questions, just a quick precis, like, “We'd like some more detail on the search and rescue stuff.” It's just a courtesy so we're not totally blindsiding her with questions. We do the same thing for opposition politicians, and pretty much anyone else too.)
This was the first media availability I'd had with Dunderdale since the whole Facebook frenzy last week. While the whole thing has largely blown over, I still had a few lingering questions about this $53,000 salary for a “social media manager.” I mean, Dunderdale killed her Twitter account in the brouhaha, and she's got a minimal presence on Facebook. Unless the premier has a Tumblr I'm not aware of, it seems like a “social media manager” would be getting paid $53,000 for not a lot of work. And anyway, I know Finance Minister Jerome Kennedy lifted the public service hiring freeze earlier this week, but aren't we supposed to be scrimping and saving because of the $563-million budget deficit? In the interest of belt-tightening, can't the premier get by without a social media manager? (You can see the allocation here (PDF) if you go to page 5.)
Anyway, I told the premier's press secretary that I'd be asking about it, and I got the distinct impression that this was something she didn't really want to speak about. First I was told that the position hadn't been filled yet. (OK, but I still want to know what this person will be doing once they're hired.) A few minutes later I was told they could provide me with a copy of the position's job description. (Great, but I still want to ask the premier about this.) A few minutes later, Dunderdale came out for the media availability.
We spent five or six minutes asking questions about SAR issues first. Then, I asked about the social media manager thing. Here's the audio of that bit: https://soundcloud.com/telegramjames/dunderdale-scrum-may-1-2013
And here's a transcript:
Me: Premier, in the departmental salary details, there's a $53,000 allocation for a social media manager in your office ...
Dunderdale: Yes, are you interested in applying, because you do a great job for the NDP on Twitter.
Me: For the NDP? OK ... What is that person going to do?
Dunderdale: They'll manage our social media, if we decide to fill the position. I'm going to send you a job description once it's completed, and maybe you might be interested in applying. We haven't decided to fill the position. As you know, we did a reorganization of my office some months ago, and we talked about that, and there was a rearrangement of duties and so on within the salary envelope and so on that we had to operate my office. At that time, we envisioned having a social media manager, and we made an allocation to do that, and up to this point, we haven't acted on it.
If you listen to the audio, it's pretty clear that Dunderdale is joking here. This is a fairly common tactic for politicians when speaking to the media. By using a reporter's name, making a joke, or turning the question around on a reporter, it tends to deflect a bit from the question. If you read the transcript closely, you'll notice that Dunderdale doesn't actually answer the question about what exactly this person will do. She also knocked me on my heels enough by quipping about me working for the NDP that I lost my train of thought, and didn't ask about the austerity stuff, or the pseudo-hiring freeze that the government is still under.
Now, admittedly, I spend a obscene amount of time on Twitter some days. In fact, immediately after the scrum was over, I tweeted, “So apparently I'm a shill for the NDP on Twitter. (So says the premier.)” https://twitter.com/TelegramJames/status/329650079269007361 I followed it up by tweeting, “I asked about the premier's office $53k social media manager position. She suggested that I'm already doing that job for the NDP.” https://twitter.com/TelegramJames/status/329650743097294849
At the time, I took the situation kind of personally. As journalists, our credibility and objectivity is integral to our professional lives. If somebody accuses you of having an axe to grind, or being sycophantic, that's normally no joking matter. It's up to you to judge whether the premier was actually taking a shot at my objectivity, or if it was just a humorous jab. Personally, I think it was the latter. As my colleague, David Cochrane said, “In my experience, when a politician REALLY thinks you're bias, everyone will know.” (https://twitter.com/CochraneCBCNL/status/329699351515512833)
I'll tell you this much though, folks. The premier has promised me that when she's looking to hire a social media manager, she'll send me the job description. I intend to hold her to her word. And when I get it, I'll post it right here.