When Mayor Ed Gainey holds press conferences, the journalists in attendance will continue to represent the city’s traditional news outlets — as well as some organizations that have not been invited in the past.
“We need to think about what are the forms of nontraditional media that we can use to reach out to the city and inform them of the work that the administration is doing,” Montaño says. “It’s going to depend on the outlet. There are some long-standing bloggers in our city and our region that maybe should be in those rooms.”
Montaño, 40, made news herself in February when she became the first transgender woman to serve as the city’s spokesperson and as the highest-ranking Latina in the administration. The Post-Gazette welcomed her appointment as “smart and historic” with a glowing editorial – but she heard from many other Pittsburghers who celebrated her new role too.
“The thing that has carried me the first week, and I’ll carry with me throughout the days that I am here with this administration,” she says, “is the amount of folks and parents of trans kids who have reached out through notes and letters of support and at public meetings, taking the moment to let me know what this means to them, and what this means to their kids, to be able to see in the midst of all that is happening around the world, that this is a city that uplifts and celebrates trans people and believes that they deserve to have a role in government.”
As a trans person, Montaño says she brings to the administration a unique perspective on the intersections of life around city government and topics such as affordable housing, justice reform and accessing healthcare.
At the same time, she also brings knowledge about the role of the media. Montaño cited academic research showing that the closure of local news outlets can result in less public engagement and higher government spending.
“All of those things are so deeply interrelated, and we’ve seen the decline in media and its impact on good governance and all that’s associated with it.”
The pandemic also presented challenges, such as fewer reporters working regularly at the City-County Building. Reporters used to sit in a room right outside the mayor’s office until 25 years ago, and many still came regularly to work in the city hall newsroom when it was moved one floor below. The Tribune-Review’s Julia Felton is there most days, and the Post-Gazette is looking to hire a full-time city hall reporter. Other outlets such as 90.5 WESA and PublicSource have reporters who cover city government but who don’t go there daily.
Journalists can follow many city meetings online, but they run the risk of missing the side conversations and interactions that happen organically — and the opportunities to develop sources.
Elected officials, too, know that fewer journalists are paying close attention. For evidence, see how city council members recently voted to give themselves pay raises.
All these changes make the spokesperson’s job more difficult. But Montaño, who spent more than eight years as a campaign communication specialist for SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, the state’s largest healthcare union, looks forward to the challenge.
“It’s definitely a more difficult task than it would have been five or 10 years ago,” she says. “But it’s more important to build those relationships with existing media, and also build new relationships with new media platforms as they come up, and make sure that they feel like they can reach out and ask a question and get someone to respond from city hall.”
Andrew Conte, founding director of the Center for Media Innovation at Point Park University, writes the On Media column at NEXTpittsburgh with support from The Heinz Endowments. You can find all of his columns here, and you may email him.