Assistant Professor of Communication, Dr. Carolyn Carlson, recently published a study for the Society of Professional Journalists which revealed the obstacles journalists face when interacting with federal public information officers.
Director of the University of Arizona's School of Journalism, Dr. David Cuillier and Kennesaw State graduate assistant Lindsey Tulkoff also contributed to the project entitled "Mediated Access: Journalists' Perceptions of Federal Public Information Officer Media Control," which found that public affairs officers often require journalists to obtain approval for meetings with government employees, monitor interviews, and even prohibit interviews from taking place.
Dr. Carlson, a former SPJ President and reporter for 23 years, and Dr. Cuillier are two of only twelve members of the Society's Freedom of Information Committee. It was during this committee’s meeting during last year's SPJ convention that the changing role of public information officers was discussed.
The committee decided to conduct a study to discover if rumors of obstacles in obtaining information were true. The resulting report is the SPJ's contribution to Sunshine Week, a celebration of the birth of the First Amendment.
Throughout the fall, Tulkoff worked with Dr. Carlson to collect 775 email addresses of journalists who work with Federal Agencies. The survey yielded a total of 146 responses which highlight journalists' frustrations at the impeded flow of information.
Dr. Carlson noted that the function of public affairs officers has shifted. In her time as a reporter, public affairs officers were not as common and those that did exist were used as resources, not gatekeepers. She also explained that more information still needs to be found to determine whether this trend is a new norm in public relations.
"Reporters in Washington are struggling to give the public an objective view of the federal government, but are running into interference rather than assistance from the very people hired by the government to help them. Public affairs officers need to facilitate media coverage, not interfere or block it," she said.
Posted: March 28, 2012