The Charlotte chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists sent the following letter to Steve Kerrigan, CEO of the Democratic National Convention Committee, on Jan. 24, 2011:
400 South Tryon Street
Charlotte, NC 28202
Dear Mr. Kerrigan,
The Greater Charlotte Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is concerned about the off-the-record portion of the media tour January 17 of venues for the Democratic National Convention.
Media representatives were told the restriction is standard procedure, and several were approached directly and asked to stop posting information to Twitter. One journalist who asked questions about the restriction was told he could leave if he didn’t accept the restriction.
While we understand the concerns for security and the preliminary nature of the logistical information, journalism and in fact our society are based on relationships of mutual trust and respect. Logistical emails, notices and parts of tours that require off-the-record restrictions violate that trust, treating journalists as passive recipients and not as partners in providing information in a civic society.
Further, research shows that the 2008 convention in Denver either had no such restrictions on the press or those restrictions were routinely violated without consequence. The actions by current DNCC communications professionals have resulted in online headlines such as, “Reporter blows the lid off DNC secret media meeting.” DNCC members have said they want an open and inclusive convention; restrictions that legitimately prompt adjectives like “secret” work directly against your purposes.
In addition, a DNCC communications professional implied in a conversation with one Charlotte media representative that journalists “in smaller markets” don’t fully understand the nature of large events or the importance of “off the record” information. That disparaging comment about Charlotte journalists is off base. The communications professional was talking with a journalist with many years in the New York media market. Further, one of the strongest voices pushing against the off-the-record tour restriction has served as an embedded journalist in Iraq.
The dust-up also prompted the headline, “Some Charlotte media not ready for the convention stage,” at one national blog as well. It’s not our role to compare credentials of journalists and DNCC communications professionals, but Charlotte has seasoned, professional journalists who deserve respect and mutual trust from the DNCC. We’d like to find ways to further positive relationships.
The Greater Charlotte Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists urges the DNCC to keep communication channels with local reporters as open and respectful as possible, and our chapter is inviting you attend one of our twice-a-month meeting for a discussion about such terms as “off the record” and other aspects of the approaching convention.
Thank you for your time, and we look forward to seeing you at one of our meetings.
Our president, Frank Barrows, will be glad to work with you to confirm a date.
Greater Charlotte Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists
Contact: Frank Barrows, 704 576-3485, firstname.lastname@example.org.