ITHACA — Journalists covering dictatorial regimes overseas often have ‘minders’ assigned ensuring the state controls access. In a move more familiar to China than a college campus, Ithaca College officials announced Friday future press contact with administrators must be cleared by the college. The change in policy was quickly denounced by IC faculty as a “potential public relations disaster.”
Starting Oct. 1, members of Ithaca College student newspapers, radio and television must first clear any administrative contact with the college’s media relations department. The new policy affects student media “who are reporting on topics of college policies and developments must go through the office of media relations,” the Ithacan reported Friday.
The new policy will allow the school to “best facilitate being able to answer questions and find the best person to represent the institution,” media relations associate director Dave Maley explained. Maley bristled at the view his office would become a gatekeeper between the media and college officials. However, Maley told the student newspaper while he wouldn’t prevent reporters from directly contacting officials, only he could set up conversations with school officials.
Along with conversations, the school will require initial e-mail contacts between officials and reporters be filtered through the media office.
It is unclear how the new policy will be enforced. Although administrators who do not redirect a media contact won’t be penalized, “the policy is not optional,” according to the Ithacan.
“If it’s anything that is timely, going through a bureaucracy to get info or not being allowed to get the information really cuts down the publication process for media at the college,” Wenmouth Williams, chair of the college’s journalism department, told the newspaper. Williams questioned how he will be able to recruit journalism students with such restrictions on direct media access in place. He described the plan as a “potential public relations disaster.”
Jeff Cohen, director of the college’s Park Center for Independent Media and founder of the Fairness & Accuracy in Media Reporting (FAIR) media watchdog organization, lambasted the new policy.
“The policy seems more a communications policy for a corporation or a government agency than a college campus,” he said.
In a possible sign of things to come, a request to Maley to “facilitate” gaining contact with Rochon failed, according to the Ithacan. The new policy covers 84 college staff, faculty and administrators.
Ithaca College has yet to respond to the Independent’s request for comment on this story.
Updated Oct. 2, 2012: Maley contacted the Independent by phone, explaining earlier email responses were unsuccessful. He provided us with Rochon’s original email explaining the new press policy. The note puts many concerns into context.
“This policy is strictly limited to the administrators listed here and to instances where you want to interview them about IC policies or college developments. The procedure for speaking with all faculty, all students, all third parties, and all staff not listed in this document is unchanged — you simply contact them,” Rochon wrote Friday evening.
At another point, the IC president explained that the new policy is designed to widen the press’ requests for comment from a small group of administrators. “The policy will reduce what has been a tendency to rely too much on just a few people (mainly us) to comment on everything, sometimes on so many stories in a short period of time that it detracts from our focus on our actual jobs.”
The Ithacan has updated its original story to explain no voicemails were ever left for Maley when requesting answers to follow-up questions. Maley told the Independent the updated ”doesn’t go as far as I would like to clear up the misleading impression left by the original final paragraph.”