Governor-elect Brian Sandoval’s spokesperson Mary-Sarah Kinner last week called this newspaper to express her indignation that a Reno News & Review reporter would ask the governor-elect questions after a church service. Bothering the soon-to-be governor after church, outside the building—not during the service, mind you—was somehow morally repugnant to her.
Well, how ’bout that?
There’s a journalistic axiom that says ethical journalists generally don’t talk about someone without talking to them. It’s an ethic that public relations experts know well: If a reporter calls to interview your client, you can often avoid uncertain coverage by stalling the reporter. Out of fairness, the reporter may not write a story until he or she gets a quote from the subject of the story. If the public relations professional can stall long enough by not responding to the reporter—often without informing the subject of the reporter’s interest—the reporter will move on because he or she has other deadlines to meet. The public relations gatekeeper considers the job well done if the public is not informed and no story is written.
The American public saw a lot of that in the last election. Politicians—think Sharron Angle—ran from the press because reporters could ask questions that would take the discussion of an election horserace story to an actual discussion of issues. Politicians, like their gatekeepers, don’t want to talk about substantive issues in an uncontrolled fashion.
So, let’s follow this argument out to its logical conclusion. The reporter directly calls a politician to request an interview. The politician ignores the request. The story is held or is undermined by the lack of the subject’s explanation. Again, the public is uninformed.
Now, suppose the reporter does what good reporters do and finds his or her subject in a public place and asks the questions that the public relations professional has tried to block and the politician has tried to avoid. The public relations professional later calls and demands that the newspaper not go to particular public places to ask their client questions. If the newspaper agrees not to go to those public places—without any agreement for access for legitimate questions—the public remains uninformed.
Once again, here’s how the scam works: If the p.r. professional blocks normal channels of access, and the newspaper agrees to forgo other channels, the p.r. professional gets to craft the stories the public reads by choosing when to grant access.
It’s a game. The newspaper plays nice and may get access when it suits the gatekeeper. There is really only one loser in this game, which is played out every day in every state in the country: the public.
The Reno News & Review was looking forward to the new administration with the hopes that the new staff would be less concerned with hiding information than with enabling access to it, certainly more than the previous administration.
This newspaper takes pride in going where the story is to inform our readers. We don’t play games. We don’t do public relations. We do news.