|SPJ position statement on the City of Winnemucca’s proposed media policy|
|Written by Dee Holzel|
|Wednesday, August 31 2011 18:19|
It is the position of the Silver Pinyon Journal that the City of Winnemucca’s draft media policy, as proposed by City Manager Steve West, is insufficient and lacks the careful thought that should be given to government/media relations in order to uphold the principles of the First Amendment.
The media does not request information from the government on its own behalf. Rather, the information is requested on behalf of the public. The infrastructure that allows the flow of information from the government to the public is just as important as the roads we drive. To that end:
1. I support a media policy that allows for email requests for information.
West’s reason for refusal to answer email, and his insistance that all requests for information be brought to City Hall on hard copy, is disingenuous.
Requests for information by email are just as “written” as anything hand-delivered. The Public Information Officer still retains a copy of the request and the answer when information is passed by email.
Requests for information can be CC’d to Eddie Davis (City Clerk) and/or a phone call can be made to West’s administrative assistant to ensure he’s in the office to receive email.
A significant portion of the interaction between the media and City Hall can be described as “fact checking”. These are little bits of information from City Council meetings or elsewhere that need to be checked. A hypothetical example: Was that 25 percent of the gas tax? Or some other tax?
It would be ridiculous to imagine a member of the media taking such a request in hard copy to City Hall then waiting two or three days for a response when such information may be had almost immediately by email.
Additionally, please consider when you create policy your actions will have consequences far into the future. While members of the media you work with now are diligent with information, there may come a time when that’s not the case. Sometime in the future reporters may look at this policy and think “forget it” and – easy access to City Hall being ancient history – will not bother to do due diligence because they can’t wait or won’t want to go that far out of their way. That’s not good for the City or the public.
2. I support a media policy in which the WPD continues to handle their own requests for information.
The draft media policy proposed by West would make him the only Public Information Officer for all city offices. However, the Winnemucca Police Department has always handled their own information request and that should continue.
There are occasions when something happens over the weekend that has high public interest. Those occasions almost always involve the WPD.
If an event happened on Friday after hours, the media would have to wait until Monday to request information from West, who in turn would have to go to the WPD for information before releasing it to the public. Should the hard-copy request for information stand, which I hope it doesn’t, the time delay on getting even basic information to the public about that event would be unacceptable.
Additionally, criminal investigations are what the WPD does and their representatives are in the best position to answer questions on those matters. Mr. West is no more the proper person to answer questions about criminal investigations than the chief of police is the proper person to answer questions about sewer rehabilitation.
3. I support a media policy with some flexibility as to who is named the Public Information Officer.
The media policy should be flexible. It would be preferable that no references be made to a specific position, such as city manager, only that a Public Information Officer will be named.
It’s the goal of everyone to provide good information to the public, who in turn would like greater transparency in government. This cannot be effectively accomplished with a Public Information Officer who is belligerent with the media. An uncooperative Public Information Officer discourages the flow of information from City Hall to the public.
If the Public Information Officer is not working well with the media, the City should have some flexibility in naming someone else to carry out those duties prescribed to the Public Information Officer.
Additionally, the Mayor, elected by the people of Winnemucca, has always been in a position to release information to the public via the media. This should not change. It would be a ridiculous situation where the Mayor could not release information but had to refer matters to a city employee.
A copy of this position statement will be provided to each member of the Council as well as the Mayor