EWA & SPJ Surveys: Reporters Say PIO Controls Getting Worse
WASHINGTON, DC – On the eve of Sunshine Week 2014, the Education Writers Association and the Society of Professional Journalists have 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, Ga., 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.
On Wednesday at 1:30 p.m., the National Press Club will host 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 one survey, EWA joined with SPJ 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.”
“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,” Emily Richmond, EWA’s Public Editor, said.
The other 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 by press offices 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.
“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,” Cuillier said. “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.
In addition to Carlson, other speakers at NPC panel will include Emily Richmond, Education Writers Association Public Editor; Kathryn Foxhall, a member of the NPC Freedom of the Press Committee and a freelance reporter; and David Cuillier, SPJ President and director of the University of Arizona School of Journalism.
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.
As the professional organization of members of the media who cover education at all levels, EWA has worked for 67 years to help journalists and education writers get the story right. Today, EWA has more than 3,000 members benefiting from our high-quality programs, training, information, support and recognition. To learn more about EWA, please visit www.ewa.org.
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.