NPR shines light on access issues for reporters covering Oil Spill– Where was SPJ?

NPR’s David Folkenflik reports on challenges journalists face in gaining access to cover the Gulf Oil Spill. Including no journalism groups such as SPJ or any of the groups focused on ensuring journalists access to vital information, the news report raises a question of relevance for professional journalism organizations.

Talk about glaring omissions.  I couldn’t believe National Public Radio’s David Folkenflik managed to produce a story about reporters’ lack of access to areas around the BP Gulf Oil spill and never talked to (or at least included in his report) any of the journalism organizations whose main focus is to press for access to information.

Instead, the story, which aired on today’s  Morning Edition, featured the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which filed a complaint with nine Louisiana parishes.  According to Folkenflik, Marjorie Esman, executive director of the Louisiana ACLU,  had received complaints from all kinds of journalists who say they’ve been prevented from taking footage or reporting in public spaces such as roads or beaches.

My QUESTION IS:  Why didn’t those journalists contact SPJ or other journalism organizations?   Why was ACLU their first option?

I write this post as a member of the SPJ’s National Board of Directors.    When we talk about the relevance of professional journalism organizations such as SPJ and RTDNA (Radio-Television Digital News Association), it is stories such as Folkenflik’s that raise the question — why aren’t journalists actively seeking our help in such matters?  Perhaps we’re not viewed as viable enough to spur action on the part of local governments or global corporations?

While SPJ has not been completely silent on issues related to the coverage of the spill, it should have been a central force in the ongoing discussion about acess to information on this story.   In a June 7 news release, the leadership of SPJ joined other journalism organizations that called for President Obama to ensure access to monitoring data.

Seems to me SPJ and other groups may have an image problem.  Do journalists see us a first responder when issues of access to information arise?   Why or why not?     Maybe I’m over-reacting, making too much of one story.  Or maybe we as an professional organization need to a better job of conveying to working journalists that we ARE there and available to go to bat for them.

Author: George Daniels

George L. Daniels is an associate professor of journalism at the University of Alabama. After spending eight years in the local television newsroom working as a producer at stations in Richmond, Virginia; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Atlanta, Georgia, Daniels moved from the newsroom to the classroom. He’s conducted research on diversity issues in the media workplace and change in the television newsroom as well as media convergence. Before going to work in television news, Daniels worked briefly as a freelance writer for The Richmond Free Press in his hometown of Richmond, Va.

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