Report highlights need for journalists to push back when stonewalled

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Screenshot of a 2023 "roundtable" hosted by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis where he and his guests aired their grievances with the press. DeSantis is one of many public officials who often disregards established norms regarding media access.

There has been a disturbing uptick in recent years of instances where journalists have been prevented from covering public business or having access to public officials, in ways that violate laws, long-standing norms, or both.

Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF) Director of Advocacy Seth Stern was among a group of journalists, policy advocates, and others who joined a symposium last year — convened by the Craig Newmark Center for Ethics and Leadership at Poynter — to discuss the problem.

This week, Poynter issued its report summarizing the discussion, as well as a “Journalist’s Toolkit” summarizing its findings and recommendations.

Stern emphasized the need for journalists to use their platforms to report press freedom violations and explain how officials are depriving the public of news.

“Journalists are historically hesitant to make themselves the story and/or worried that admitting the government is stifling their ability to report the news is a confession of weakness. That needs to stop,” he said.

Stern added that editorials about press freedom, although helpful, are not enough, because readers of the stories impacted by officials’ stonewalling may not read the editorials. Journalists, he said, should “make clear in the story that you would’ve liked to attend the event yourself or speak to the official or their staff but you weren’t allowed to do so. If they believe the coverage is biased, they have themselves to blame, and perhaps they’ll reconsider for next time.”

Stern also emphasized the impact of abuses of public records laws, including agencies charging journalists exorbitant fees to fulfill records requests.

The toolkit incorporates several of his recommendations, advising journalists to “platform the problem: publish when sources won’t cooperate” and to “tell your audience details about records denials.”

You can read the full report here and review the toolkit here.

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