TWEETING during Oldham Council meetings is (slowly) growing in popularity.
So much, in fact, that it has become a topic that has dominated the letters page and online forum of the local press in recent days.
Recognising that not everyone has access to or buys the Oldham Chronicle, I thought it might be helpful to reproduce a letter I recently submitted setting out my views on the issue.
Editor – “Twittergate” still occupies the letters page as the debate rumbles on about whether councillors should use Twitter during council meetings.
Your front page carried a piece on Deputy Mayor Cllr John Hudson who has expressed his view that the use of Twitter is not always appropriate. The story paints Cllr Hudson as being slightly ‘old fashioned’ on the use of technology to connect with the public.
I have to say that does Cllr Hudson a great disservice. Regardless of party politics he has been supportive in our work to modernise the council by embracing new technology such as webstreaming and accepting public questions by facebook and Twitter, so he certainly isn’t against moving with the times.
Cllr Hudson, and indeed your own editorial raised a broader question about whether councillors should be taking part in the chamber debate or commentating on the meeting during on Twitter.
As a regular user of Twitter I have found it a great way to connect with a new audience who wouldn’t dream of attending a council meeting and for that we should embrace it.
We do need a discussion across all political groups about how councillors use this during meetings and I hope common ground is found which enables councillors to connect and answer public questions without having a ‘virtual’ council meeting which excludes those not on Twitter.
I do hope that councillors who are not users of Twitter consider how appropriate it is to have side conversations and distract those who do stand to speak with their own commentary and small talk. This is as distracting and disconnected from the wider debate as those involved in one to one social media discussions.
Perhaps this has raised a broader issue about mutual respect in the council chamber and if that is resolved that can only be a good thing. We can all have fun and enjoy the political back and forth but ultimately the council chamber carries great responsibility and has a serious job to do. However it would be a mistake to throw the baby out with the bath water and we should continue to embrace all forms of communication including Twitter.
Since that letter was published the leaders of all three political groups represented on Oldham Council have now come to an agreement on the future use of Social Media during meetings.
I don’t believe this is actually an issue about whether or not people are paying attention if they are tweeting from the benches.
Simply adding commentary once or twice during a three to four-hour meeting isn’t any more distracting than other things that are going on in the Council Chamber – and I would add that to comment you do, of course, need to be listening to the debate to form a view.
But if Councillors are having one-to-one discussions throughout the meeting, therefore excluding others in the chamber, or even worse are criticising but not being prepared to stand up and make that contribution to the proceedings, then that isn’t respectful or helpful to democracy.
Twitter isn’t a replacement for face-to-face contact – and it never should be – but it is also a great way to communicate and we should embrace it.
On that note I am continuing my visits to all of Oldham schools and last week made a stop at Saddleworth School.
This is a really inspiring school that clearly has great ambition for its future and the Borough.
During the discussions with pupils and staff I also heard some great ideas about how we can get more young people to come into the town centre, and feedback that we need to find new ways to reach out to them and promote what is happening.
Finally this week I had the task of preparing for an Oldham Community Radio show where I had to make my own ‘Desert Island Discs’ selection.
This, I quickly learned, is not easy – and somewhat daunting once you’ve started.
After finally choosing my six tracks I discovered three things.
Firstly, that it’s actually very difficult to get a playlist down to just six songs.
Secondly, it reaffirmed to me that I am far from cool to any generation.
And finally, an exercise like this is an unexpected but also rather useful insight into your own thoughts – however disappointing the results may ultimately prove to be(!).
Here’s what I came up with:
The Dubliners: Black Velvet Band
The Pasadenas: I’m Doing Fine Now
The Smiths: Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now
Yazz: The Only Way Is up
Oasis: Some Might Say
Thanks for listening (even if – likely(!) – not to my music selection),