This is an era of invention in branded content. Lots of breakthrough ideas. Lots of out-of-the-box thinking.
But the Seattle Police Department employing an alternative journalist to write a blog about upcoming changes in marijuana laws — awesome!
Back in March, the Seattle police first hired journalist Jonah Spangenthal-Lee to write a blog for the department. Which was very forward-thinking of the Seattle police. Spangenthal-Lee had become a fairly well-known local crime reporter, first on a couple of Seattle web sites and then for the Seattle alternative newspaper The Stranger, which features stories such as, “Cannibis Calendar: Things to Do With Pot in the Coming Months,” and “Sex at Seattle Art Museum.”
The idea, at the time, was for Spangenthal-Lee to write a blog about police actions in the city. As Spangenthal-Lee noted, it’s alarming to see a police helicopter circling overhead and never know why. The blog was meant to help people know what was happening in Seattle. Police officers had been doing that on the department’s site, but police officers aren’t writers. Spangenthal-Lee made the blog more journalistic and compelling.
And then this month, the department collided with a major challenge. Washington State voted to decriminalize marijuana. If the police were going to have to deal with this new reality, they wanted the public to understand the law and how the department would approach it.
Given Spangenthal-Lee’s background with both crime and The Stranger, he was the perfect choice to write about pot for the police. So the Seattle Police launched a sub-section of its blog, called Marijwhatnow? A sample:
Q: Can I smoke pot outside my home? Like at a park, magic show, or the Bite of Seattle?
A: Much like having an open container of alcohol in public, doing so could result in a civil infraction—like a ticket—but not arrest. You can certainly use marijuana in the privacy of your own home.
Is the blog working? Well, over the weekend a New York Times story noted that the pot posts have “gone closer to viral than perhaps any official police communication in history, with 26,000 Facebook ‘likes’ and more than 218,000 page views as of Friday.”