More Tips for Getting Around Press Office Obstruction

June 25, 2014

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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