Monday, March 14, 2011

Another "Dear John" By Proxy

Updated 5:05 p.m.: Governor Kasich's office has reversed the policy and will allow electronic reporting of the budget briefing noted below.

This is still a very important issue, especially as Ohio and the rest of the nation observe "Sunshine Week" this week to spotlight open government and transparency by those who do the people's business.

This issue remains just as important now.

Earlier this year I penned an open letter to Karen Kasich, Governor John Kasich's wife, pertaining to the Kelley Williams-Bolar case. Now it's "Dear Rob" to Rob Nichols, Governor Kasich's press secretary, asking why in the world you would pound reports at the capitol back to the Stone Age?

The Stone Age being the era when things with batteries and power cords were in short supply; in fact, they weren't in ANY supply.

Maybe the Kasich Administration is just hopelessly romantic, pining for more wistful days when reporters came out of "The Front Page" mold -- Hildy screaming for the copy desk, pushing back his Fedora at the same time the copy editor was pushing back his green-shade cap.

Ah, the good old days...if this were the 1950's, Don Draper would be so proud. Unfortunately, it's 2011.

Word from Columbus today is the decision to hold a traditional media briefing on the state budget proposal going to the General Assembly tomorrow -- you know, the one where we learn how Ohio will deal with a projected eight billion dollar shortfall -- won't allow recorders or cameras.

My letter to Rob:

Rob, I'm writing with concern over reports I'm hearing that the Governor's traditional sit-down briefing with the Capitol Press Corps this year -- specifically tomorrow after he presents to the General Assembly -- will be "pen and pad" only and will exclude mic and camera coverage.

Can this be true? Have we advanced media relations in the new millennium to exclude the tools of the journalists' trade anything requiring a power cord and battery? What's next -- imposing rules on print reporters that any coverage be limited to a mimeograph machine?

Although my broadcast operation is 112 miles from the state capitol building, we follow the policy discussion and issues from Columbus both online and through the statewide broadcasts of the Ohio News Network, Ohio Government Television and of course Ohio Public Radio and Television. So do our listeners. To deny electronic journalists the ability to use the very tools of electronic journalism in coverage of the most important budget issue in Ohio's recent history is to deny the citizens of Ohio the ability to weigh the observations and positions of Governor Kasich as precisely the time when they need to see and hear him the most. It is unconscionable to insist broadcast and Internet members of the statehouse news gathering process operate as they did fifty years ago.

If this policy is aimed at forcing electronic media to provide live coverage of the Governor's Town Hall meeting this evening, such policy is a cynical manipulation of the open government process and transparency past Administrations have traditionally followed. It paints this decision as political in nature, and not a genuine opportunity to engage in open and honest dialogue with the citizens of Ohio.

Pragmatically, this decision makes an "on the record" conversation anything but on the record. Without the normal tools available, even print reporters would be forced to leave behind the small recorders they may use to make sure the quotes and comments of Governor Kasich and members of the Administration are accurate and within context.

I respectfully request your reconsideration of this policy. With the significant challenges our elected representatives, including Governor Kasich, must deal with at this critical time in Ohio's history this is a direction away from accountable and transparent government.

- - -

In the Information Age we swing back to using papyrus and charcoal. Perhaps the representatives from the Associated Press, Columbus Dispatch, Akron Beacon Journal, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Cincinnati Enquirer and Dayton Daily News would be able to pool their supply of quill and ink as to set an example?

Honestly, with all the spin accompanying the need to transform the way Ohio does business, is this really the direction the Administration needs to set course on when dealing with the statehouse media?

A supporter might say this is all designed to make Ohio's television, radio and web news operations belly up to the Governor's Town Hall meeting tomorrow night where he explains his budget to his bosses -- the taxpayers. Somehow I don't imagine local TV stations blanking out of the night's Doppler 15,000 weathercast to make way for the Governor's webcast. It's a silly, manipulative and cynical view of presenting an important public debate to...well, the public.

Politically and from a public relations standpoint, it makes little sense. By hog-tying television, radio, and even print reporters posting online from using the tools of today's media trade during his briefing, Governor Kasich sets the stage for his very vocal opposition to use those same tools in getting their message out over his. It's a strategy that begs for an aggressive response from the loyal opposition; pragmatically it gives Democrats and those who will fight the Governor's budget proposal the advantage in getting their spin out before voters have had a chance to hear Kasich's voice.

This isn't the first time the Governor's Office has stumbled in putting muscle behind it's talk of transparency and open debate. This latest example, as with some of the most recent, just don't make sense other than to consider it more an expression of ego than smart politics. With so many other weightier fish to fry, why pick a fight with those who's job it is to act as the eyes and ears of the very citizens you are trying to get on your side?

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