Members of the Society of Environmental Journalists aren't the only ones who find federal agency press offices to be hard to get call-backs, on-record interviews, or simple information from. Many health writers have the same problem.
In the latest issue of Harvard's Nieman Reports, Jenni Bergal paints a broad canvas of the problems many journalists have in getting from agencies key information that affects the public interest. She appends a series of pro tips that may help harried reporters in dealing with press offices and officers. We quote:
- Find out who you want to talk to within an agency and try to contact them directly.
- Refuse to submit questions ahead of time or let a press officer moderate an interview or dictate who to interview.
- Write about it whenever an agency thwarts or manages an interview.
- Document every incident of stonewalling or denial and keep a running list.
- When calling or e-mailing the press office, be clear about the information you’re seeking and your deadline. If someone promises to get back, ask when that will be; follow up every call with an e-mail.
- If a press officer is unresponsive, contact his or her superior and work your way up the chain of command.
- Complain to members of Congress or top agency officials.
- Contact the FOIA ombudsman at the Office of Government Information Service.
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