Oh, The Flacks, The Obstacles They Throw Up….

A major shout-out to my co-blogger and co-author, Dave Cuillier, for this fantastic study…and thanks to the good folks at the Society of Environmental Journalists for the tip!

We’ve all felt that the obstacles that government PIO “minders” throw up have been growing in number and intensity, and now a study by SPJ proves it…it is a fascinating look at the barriers reporters face in the form of government controls.

SPJ commissioned work by survey research professionals canvassing 776 newsgatherers (of whom 146 completed the survey) during January-February 2012. Here are some of the findings:

— “Pre-approval: Three-quarters reported that they have to get approval from public affairs officers before interviewing an agency employee (a third said that occurs all of the time and 45 percent some of the time).”

— “Prohibition: About half the reporters said agencies outright prohibit reporters from interviewing agency employees altogether at least some of the time, and 18 percent said it happens most of the time.”

— “Routing: Seven out of 10 reporters say their requests for interviews are forwarded to public affairs officers for selective routing to whomever they want.”

— “Monitoring: About 16 percent of the reporters said their interviews are monitored in person or over the telephone all the time, a third said it happens most of the time and another third said it happens some of the time.”

See the full report, “Mediated Access: Journalists’ Perceptions Of Federal Public Information Officer Media Control,” Society of Professional Journalists, March 12, 2012, by Carolyn Carlson, David Cuillier, and Lindsey Tulkoff, here.

More Coverage From The First Global Conference on Transparency Research

Nice coverage here:

The end product of a “Wikileaks World” may not be greater openness or effective repression, but more pervasive “spin.”

That is the message a leading British researcher and author brought to the first Global Conference on Transparency Research, being held at Rutgers University-Newark.

“There doesn’t seem seem to be much to stop the replication of the Wikileaks business model,” said Christopher Hood, the Gladstone professor of government and a fellow of All Souls College, Oxford.

But Hood told 120 academics, activists and policymakers from around the world, other groups can expect the same sort of legal actions, cyber-attacks and economic reprisals that the secretive non-profit felt after releasing of documents and videos embarrassing to governments and corporations.

Those institutions are likely to chart mixed courses of correcting problems, cracking down on whistleblowers or ignoring such revelations, Hood said. But most will likely “depend more and more on spin doctors who can shift the public agenda and create distractions,” he said.

The intersection of such issues, and the effectiveness of the many possible responses, is what drew attendees of varied disciplines. backgrounds and outlooks to Newark for frank and useful discussions.

Transparency: This Generation’s Magna Carta?

Daniel Schuman of the Sunlight Foundation — a great access advocate at a great access advocacy shop — attended the first Global Conference on Transparency Research at Rutgers University-Newark, which brought together two hundred transparency researchers from around the world. Thanks to a post-surgical travel ban, I missed it, doggonit, but I thought I’d pass along his great post, here.

It’s well worthy your time.


OECD Paper on Open Government Published

“Open Government: Beyond Static Measures” looks at the issue of metrics in transparency and examines some of the ways that access can be qualitatively measured.

From the intro:

The purpose of this paper is to introduce new indicators for measuring government openness. Existing open government indicators tend to focus either on the presence of key laws and institutions, or on citizens’ perceptions of government performance. Neither option provides a full picture of comparative openness: the former gives little insight into the scope of the laws and institutions measured and the latter does not provide a quantitative picture of actual activities.

The indicators proposed in this paper are intended to fill this gap. They seek to complement, rather than replace, the existing data sets used for measuring government openness today. It is hoped that by improving the ways in which we assess open government, this project will contribute to a better understanding of what open government means in practice, which in turn will lead to improvements in the delivery of the openness agenda both in OECD member countries and worldwide.

New Study Chronicles Demise of News-Driven FOI

Something that has worried me for a long time:

New research brings to light some of the previously unrecognized risks that may jeopardize government openness and accountability as a result of the predicted “death of newspapers.”

In a forthcoming study in the Washington & Lee Law Review, Brigham Young University law professor RonNell Andersen Jones undertakes a large-scale historical investigation of the role that traditional newspapers have played in litigating and legislating open-government issues. She concludes that the predicted death of newspapers can be expected to have severe effects on the development of the law in this area.

“Scholars and commentators have been talking for some time about how the death of newspapers could have serious consequences for the quality of newsgathering,” said Jones, a former clerk for Sandra Day O’Connor. “My research demonstrates a second, largely ignored ramification.  The death of newspapers seriously threatens to put an end to some of the most important legal efforts in our democracy.”

Jones says that although these legal efforts have been largely unnoticed by the American public, the citizenry has been a major beneficiary of them.

“For generations, newspapers and newspaper organizations have expended substantial resources to litigate major cases to the U.S. Supreme Court to ensure that trials are open to the public. They have funded the drafting of virtually every piece of open-government legislation on both a federal and a state level. They have then gone on to fund litigation efforts to ensure that these statutes, once passed, are obeyed by government officials.  The death of newspapers can be expected to pose a serious constitutional crisis.”