LTE: FWP’s poor public relations
The recent closure of our four nearby rivers (Yellowstone, Boulder, Shields and Stillwater) had a major negative effect on the lives and livelihoods of both tourists and local business operators. Even so, there was very little grumbling. We trusted that FWP scientists knew their business.
Then, on Sept. 1, there was to be an ad hoc meeting of the wildlife commission to discuss the situation. FWP’s website announced there would be live streaming audio available for public dissemination of the proceedings.
This was encouraging, and everyone affected by the closure waited eagerly for this event. I consulted with several other interested parties, but none of them knew the secret of connecting to the audio feed.
Not their fault, as FWP’s website was vague about how to gain access to this timely and very important event.
Searching diligently on the various pages of fwp.mt.gov gave no clue as to where one was to look for the magic button. Calls to FWP headquarters in Helena provided lame responses such as, “That will be up closer to the time of the meeting.”
After more calls to HQ, usually unanswered, finally I was told that the stream button would not be up until noon, the precise time scheduled for the meeting to begin. I tried to explain that we, the interested public, needed to know ahead of time exactly what we needed to do to successfully hear the wise words of the exalted commissioners. I got off the line before I popped an aneurysm.
Waiting until the last minute to provide the stream button is such a poor decision that even I am at a loss for words.
Finally, the moment of truth arrived. I repeatedly refreshed the FWP home page, but saw no streaming button. There were links to the river closure story, but it was all old news. The clock showed well after noon.
In desperation, I telephoned one of my curious confederates. When he answered, I could hear the dulcet tones of the oracle playing in the background, so I knew that success was possible, perhaps even within grasp.
He told me that the key to the kingdom was “Right there on the home page.”
I said that I couldn’t see it, so he told me to “Scroll down for a while, and there it is!”
Sure enough, it was there, under “What’s trending.” “TRENDING!?”
The river closure story has been national news for weeks, and this meeting might end it! It would take mere seconds to put another link prominently near the top of the home page. Links cost nothing.
Depending on one’s Internet access device, it is not even clear that there is anything below the flashy auto-scrolling welcome area.
But, I swallowed my pride and clicked on the streaming button. It was there, all right, but in no way prominent. “You’re just supposed to know,” as is so often said in the tech world.
Okay, so I click “stream,” and I’m informed that it might be a full minute before I begin to hear the good stuff. A minute goes by, then another.
I perform an audio check with YouTube — sound okay. I refresh the streaming page, click start again. This time I hear tiny little bits of what might be human speech. I close that window and try another browser. Same stuttering.
I now begin to notice how all of FWP’s site pages load VERY slowly. It was apparent that FWP does not have adequate bandwidth to handle the traffic for such an important event. They did not rent any extra bandwidth.
The World Wide Web is no longer new and novel. It is now how we do this sort of thing. The old town crier knew how loud to bawl “way back when.” A website is a tool for getting good and timely information to those who need it.
A fishing license is not cheap, and I can’t get a refund for the many days I couldn’t use it. Some substantial part of that money must have gone to IT staff at HQ.
Eventually, I had to resort to Mr. Bell’s invention of more than a century ago to find out from another human being what the results of the meeting were.
With such poor handling of the public relations part of their jobs, can one help questioning FWP’s expertise in the core part of their functions? A shame.