North Texas Daily

Government should improve media relations

Government should improve media relations

Government should improve media relations
December 01
23:54 2014

Dalton LaFerney / Senior Staff Writer

The Texas government is said to be the most effective in the U.S., but it is not the most transparent. It is below average in cooperation with journalists and other citizens who seek answers.

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution established a framework for a future of free and open press. It subsides censorship for transparency, allowing citizens to speak out against anything they so desire. While its disdain for oppression enforces a free and open press, the Constitution does not require cooperation with the press.

Texas politicians such as Wendy Davis do not openly liaise with the media. Sen. Davis’s media relations team was much more difficult to get in touch with than incoming Governor Greg Abbott’s.

When I reached out to Davis’s team about two weeks ago for interview requests, not even to speak with Sen. Davis, I was met with “call this person,” “email this office,” and “this person is not at the office,” more than I should have. For a politician so happy to come to UNT, Sen. Davis’s media team was not responsive enough in sharing information.

Many people I spoke with told me anybody working for her campaign was not allowed to share any information. To be fair, one official did call me back one Friday afternoon, but no plans were detailed.

Politicians are of the most secretive businesspeople out there, and media silence is most often the best press they receive. Sen. Davis is not alone in that regard.

As a Columbia Journalism Review article detailed, Texas state regulators have thrown many obstacles in the way of the media to prevent the “wrong” information from getting disseminated.

The story reports the Texas Railroad Commission’s 2012 media policy that barred staff from speaking to the press. The Railroad Commission, like the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, gave statements to the press only through media relations personnel.

Media offices are built to doctor the message. It’s well-known that when a media office issues a statement, it has been rehearsed and thought out as to not make any negative ripples. Those media employees mostly have backgrounds in journalism or public relations, so they understand what journalists are looking for, and design a message evading the questions almost entirely.

During the months leading to the hydraulic fracturing ban vote, journalists worked with oil and gas spokespeople. The fabrications the RRC and TCEQ continually gave reporters around the state, including those of us at the North Texas Daily, were about the responsibility the RRC and TCEQ had in protecting Texas citizens — voters — and gave less of a response to certain scientific studies and critiques on oil and gas regulation. For one story I worked on involving benzene levels in Denton, the RRC referred me to the TCEQ, and the TCEQ referred me back to the RRC — transparency.

It’s not that the agencies or individuals who have press teams have anything to hide. It’s that the relationship between journalists (the people) and the ones who control the money should be improved. While a better working relationship is desired, it is not vital to democracy. The people who want the truth, and the media who search for the answers, will continue to expose and report. As Denton showed the state on Nov. 4, grassroots efforts and desires for justice usually find a way to the surface.

Featured Illustration by Jake Bowerman – Senior Staff Illustrator

About Author

Dalton LaFerney

Dalton LaFerney

Dalton is the editor of the Daily.

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