KENNESAW — Kennesaw State University Assistant Professor of Communication Carolyn Carlson will be in Washington, D.C., next month to speak on the practices of government public affairs officers and the implications for press freedoms.
Carlson, a longtime reporter and editor for The Associated Press, will discuss two recent surveys that explore the relationship between government affairs officers and reporters during a panel discussion assembled by the National Press Club’s Press Freedom Committee. It will be the first time a Kennesaw State professor speaks at a press club event.
Barriers to the truth?
In a 2012 online survey, 146 reporters covering federal government agencies said they faced barriers in trying to get information to the public because of interference from public affairs officers. A 2013 follow-up survey of more than 100 government public information officers found that about 65 percent of respondents said they felt it necessary to supervise interviews of their agency’s staff. The Freedom of Information Committee of the Society of Professional Journalists conducted the surveys as part of Sunshine Week.
Carlson was the lead author of the surveys’ findings. Roberta Jackson, a graduate research assistant at Kennesaw State, worked on the 2013 report.
“We are trying to get their (public information officers’) attention to let them know that too much control is too much,” said Carlson, who has been a national president of the Society of Professional Journalists. She is also a former chair of the society’s Ethics Committee and is a current member of its Freedom of Information Committee.
A state and local
“Public information officers want to control who is talking to the media and what they can say. This is system-wide — on a national, state and local level. This has come about in the last 20 years or so,” she said.
“Reporters see this as a form of government censorship,” Carlson said. “Reporters want to be able to go to their sources within the government. They want to use PIOs to find the sources they don’t know. They don’t want to just be hearing the company line. This is not to say that all the news about an agency should be bad news. But it shouldn’t all be good news.
“What reporters really resent is when PIOs monitor their interviews, which more and more PIOs are doing. Newer reporters believe that this is the way it has always been. Older reporters are more likely to go around the PIOs to get the information they need.”
To explore the issue, the National Press Club’s Press Freedom Committee has assembled a panel of experts with differing views on the subject.
John Donnelly, chairman of the committee and a senior writer with CQ Roll Call, will moderate the Aug. 12 panel discussion. The other members of the panel are:
• Linda Petersen: managing editor, The Valley Journals of Salt Lake; freedom of information chair for the Society of Professional Journalists and president of the Utah Foundation for Open Government;
• John Verrico: president-elect of the National Association of Government Communicators; and
• Kathryn Foxhall: freelance reporter who has extensively researched the issue.