(TNS) -- ANTIOCH — Frustrated at the city’s negative image, city officials and staff have been quietly working on a marketing campaign that will promote positive news while reducing negative news.
While the efforts aren’t new, the campaign to push a positive image of the city has taken a creative turn recently.
One of the city’s new efforts — www.antiochonthemove.com — came up suddenly in late July as a destination for “community news and events,” specifically promoting positive news about the city of Antioch.
“We are a big city and most of the news media are attracted to negative news, but we know there are way more positive stories coming out of Antioch than negative,” said Lizeht Zepeda, program manager for the Economic Development Department.
The marketing campaign is an early effort by the city to control the city’s narrative and will soon be followed by a $100,000 proposal for a public relations firm to rebrand the city.
The $5,000 purchase order assigned to the project was never made public, due to a 2014 administrative memo that increased the amount of money city staff could spend without a an open bidding process.
Adding to the obscurity of publicly available information was that the website was registered to a company that is used to keep the website’s owners identities private. The site has a .com address, rather than a .gov, which would indicate it is a government-owned website.
A public records act request returned most of the publicly available information, and after an additional, in-person request, the city made documents such as the purchase order public.
Zepeda said the vendor the city contracted with, Nancy Mai Cagadoc of Brentwood-based Dualhare Inc., purchased the domain name and was planning on transferring it to the city. Cagadoc did not return calls seeking an interview for this article.
Councilman Lamar Thorpe was surprised to hear that the website was commissioned by the city of Antioch, saying it “was news” to him, but supported the effort as an improved “community newsletter.”
The trend toward local governments becoming their own news publishers has increased in recent years as the number of journalists employed around the country continues to dramatically drop.
Andrew Seaman, ethics chairman for the Society of Professional Journalists labeled the content “propaganda” in an interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune over San Diego’s positive news website.
Zepeda said that the inspiration for the website came about after the city received several unsolicited proposals for media relations.
On April 6, the city received its first unsolicited proposal, which came from the Burkholder Media Group, a local company owned by Oakley resident Mike Burkholder, who is also the author and publisher of EastCountyToday.net.
“I think that all governments can do a better job of putting out their information in a format that is easier for people to find,” Burkholder said. “I don’t think it should be 100-percent one way or another (positive or negative information). I think it should be real information that is useful to anybody.”
The offer wouldn’t be Burkholder’s first proposal to a local government agency: In February, Burkholder proposed a similar arrangement to the Antioch Unified School District for $53,900 a year. Burkholder’s media relations company, Mike & Mike Media, has also done work for the Antioch Police Activities League and photography work for current police chief Tammany Brooks.
After meeting with Burkholder, Zepeda said they received two more unsolicited proposals after which Zepeda recommended Dualhare for the work, she said.
City officials did not vote and were not briefed on the website, Zepeda said, and had only found out about it at the end of September when the public records act request was returned to the East Bay Times.
Councilwoman Lori Ogorchock referred many questions to city manager Ron Bernal, who has not responded to requests for comment, but said that Cagadoc had “done some social media work” for her in the past and likes the “positive content,” Cagadoc was creating.
Mayor Sean Wright compared the city’s efforts to cleaning up a house before a visitor comes over by “putting the best foot forward.”
As part of the city’s push toward a positive image, Wright said that City Council members agreed to remove crime narratives from the city manager’s weekly reports after the 2016 election.
“We’re not yelling, ‘here’s the bad information,’ we’re just doing what the other cities are doing,” Wright said. “Antioch would like to be more positive. It doesn’t mean there aren’t things we need to work on and fix, but if we want our home values to go up and we want the view to change, we need to focus on the positives.”
©2017 the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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