INDIANAPOLIS/ 3/19/14 – On the eve of Sunshine Week 2014, the Society of Professional Journalists has released the results from two surveys about journalists’ experience with obtaining public information. The studies were led by Dr. Carolyn S. Carlson — a communication professor from Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Georgia, and a member of SPJ’s Freedom of Information committee — and Megan Roy, Carlson’s graduate research assistant.
The surveys specifically document reporters’ perceptions about whether government press offices interfere with reporting.
The first survey sponsored by SPJ was of political and general assignment reporters working at the state and local level. The vast majority of reporters who took this survey said the amount of control has been increasing over the past several years and they see it only getting worse over the next few years. They agreed the current level of media control by PIOs is an impediment to providing information to the public. Download and read the full report here.
For the second survey, SPJ joined with the Education Writers Association to focus on the nation's education reporters. Journalists indicated that public information officers often require pre-approval for interviews, decide who reporters get to interview and often monitor interviews. Sometimes they will prohibit interviews altogether. Education writers overwhelmingly agreed with the statement that “the public was not getting all the information it needs because of barriers agencies are imposing on journalists’ reporting practices.” Download and read the full report here.
“What is so frustrating for journalists is that they have important stories they want to tell the public but government agencies often do everything they can to muzzle and manage the message,” said David Cuillier, SPJ president and director of the University of Arizona School of Journalism. “Ultimately, the public loses because it isn’t getting the information it needs to self-govern. This isn’t about the government vs. the press. It’s the government vs. the citizen.”
In the last two years, surveys by Carlson have stirred discussion about the widespread movement in recent times in which government agencies and other entities bar employees from speaking to reporters unless they go through public affairs offices. Her work has also shined a light on delays and other barriers that sometimes ensue after reporters contact public affairs staff.
On Wednesday, March 19th, the National Press Club hosted a panel discussing the surveys at the NPC’s Zenger Room in Washington D.C. Both the release of the survey and the forum are during Sunshine Week — an annual series of events in mid-March that spotlights the importance of transparency, especially government openness.
In addition to Carlson and Cuillier, other speakers at NPC panel will include Kathryn Foxhall, a member of the NPC Freedom of the Press Committee and a freelance reporter, and Emily Richmond, public editor of Education Writers Association.
"The message from our members is clear: reasonable access to public officials and data is an essential plank to education reporting, and one that must be protected," Richmond said.
Full statements by the panelists are on http://www.spj.org/sunshineweek.asp.
NPC and SPJ have also posted an op-ed for use by news outlets during Sunshine Week saying that agencies at all levels are controlling the information the public receives, threatening the very foundation of democracy.
Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information on SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.
David Cuillier, SPJ National President, 520.248.6242, firstname.lastname@example.org
Carolyn Carlson, SPJ Freedom of Information Committee Member, 404.502.1638, email@example.com
Ellen Kobe, SPJ Communications Coordinator, 317.920.4785, firstname.lastname@example.org