At Indiana Central News, the struggle is sometimes getting access to very basic information.
Honestly, when working with “the police” as a reporter, I just want the facts. I want to see the report in black and white and in a reasonable amount of time -- by email , by phone -- or at the scene or the station. But it isn’t that easy anymore!
A recent article from the Society of Professional Journalists regarding public information problems also sums up my general thoughts on the topic:
“The United States Freedom of Information Act celebrates its 50th anniversary on July 4, 2016. Now is the perfect time for the President to change the practices of his administration and participate in a public dialogue toward improving the flow of information to the American people.”
The most recent letter, like prior letters, outlines specific examples of excessive information control, considered by many journalists as a form of censorship:
• Officials blocking reporters’ requests to talk to specific staff people;
• Excessive delays in answering interview requests that stretch past reporters’ deadlines;
• Officials conveying information “on background,” refusing to give reporters what should be public information unless they agree not to say who is speaking.
• Federal agencies blackballing reporters who write critically of them.
At Indiana Central News, the struggle is sometimes getting access to very basic information. My wish is that there could be easy electronic access to it one day. And, I don't mean by going to a website such as Mycrash.com and paying a fee.
I admit that unanswered calls and emails to law enforcement is a big pet peeve of mine. Also, waiting for a press release to come, that never does, is disappointing. For the most part, however, I'd say local experiences have been all right -- with some room for improvement in all agencies.
Here is a brief overview of my personal experience with police reporting:
When I was a younger reporter, in the early 2000s, I actually made daily rounds when I was working in Washington and Brazil, Ind. to see hard copy police and fire department logs. I often walked to the buildings from the newpaper office. If I saw something significant, I could usually find an officer right there in the building who could comment, and I’d be on my way.
Then, I left the field for better pay -- and definitely better hours -- for several years. In 2012, I went to work at an Illinois newspaper and realized I’d been gone from journalism too long. Times had certainly changed.
I immediately noticed the other reporter, who covered police, didn’t ever go to the actual department buildings. WHAT? I asked.
He grumbled something about 9/11 and stricter security, and that was that on the conversation. OK, I thought, and didn’t even try to understand, since it wasn’t my beat anyway. Let me tell you, it is my beat now.
Then, when I was working in Sullivan for an online news site that later closed, I really didn’t have any issues. Usually I could make a phone call from my home about an accident, and a law enforcement official would call me back or email me in a very reasonable amount of time. However, I should note since February, I've failed to receive two press releases from the sheriff’s office there regarding two separate fatalities. Since I’m not a physical presence there, I’m not too angry about it.
The first crash I covered for ICN was in February. I was told then by city police I'd need to go online to access simple information on a three-vehicle crash that happened on S.R. 46 at Mycrash.com. It sounded good to me at first, but getting the crash number and getting that route in general to work isn’t going well at all.
As an independent reporter, all I can do is work to improve the channels of communication.
Journalist, Terre Haute
Lucy Perry, 47, enjoys writing about issues in her hometown. She periodically expresses personal opinions in her blog, Terre Haute Times.
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News Writer: Lucy Pery PHONE: 317-527-4141