Media policy causes a reaction

Dave Newlands and Michelle Kelly

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The Skyline College president reacted to the backlash of the revised media policy recently sent to campus faculty.

“My commitment is to make it right,” President Regina Stanback-Stroud said of the policy. “We’re a little bit taken off guard by the impact it’s had because we didn’t accomplish what we wanted to accomplish.”

The policy clearly states that faculty is to not interact with the press directly. It asks that all interviews get prior approval from the Office of Marketing, Communications and Public Relations.

“Please do not agree to conduct an interview with a member of the media,” the policy states.

The policy language asks for correspondence with the media to proceed “only after having a conversation with (Public Information Officer) Cherie Colin to properly prepare.” This is in order to protect the school’s “brand and image” and requests, in bold font, that faculty and staff “do not directly answer any questions, but follow the procedure as outlined.”

As an additional “tip,” the email advises faculty and staff to “not agree to talk off the record with a reporter. Nothing is off-record when speaking to the media.”

According to Frank LoMonte, Executive Director at the Student Press Law Center (SPLC) this policy’s language is far too broad to be upheld in a court under the First Amendment, should faculty not adhere to its guidelines.

“A person with an advanced degree should be able to answer the news media without someone looking over their shoulder,” LoMonte said. “The faculty and decision makers shouldn’t be spouting a pre-screened message. They should be telling the public the truth.”

There has been an influx of concern from faculty, students and journalists about this media relations approach.

“I expected questions, but I was like, oh my gosh, everybody is really upset about this,” Colin said. “I’m not touching the First Amendment, I promise you I’m not.”

Stroud and Colin feel that the confusion is a matter of semantics. They understand the policy contradicts itself in a few places. Stroud notes that it makes a point of speaking within a faculty member’s own knowledge and then in the next paragraph makes a definitive statement about never speaking to the press.

“It probably needs to be clarified,” Stroud said. “It looks like we won’t let them ask any questions, and they can only get the answers to their questions if they give it to us in writing. So [we] soften that up a little bit, if that’s not what we mean.”

Teeka James, president of the District Federation of Teachers Union, spoke out on the policy.

“The policy is confusing,” James said. “[Those who wrote the policy] think that the default is that you’re speaking on behalf of the college, but the default is actually that [faculty] are speaking as an individual.”

In comparison, College of San Mateo has a less explicit policy which reads more like guidelines or suggestions for faculty in their contact with the press.

“We haven’t had any issues,” CSM Public Information Officer Beverly Madden said. “Many times the direct point of contact will be the dean or the faculty, but they always have the option of looping me in.”

Colin felt that she expressed a similar sentiment to that of CSM, and that the Skyline policy reflected the most efficient and effective way to disseminate information to the public.

“That was sort of our attempt at trying to figure out what’s the best way to get accurate information to the media,” Colin said. “Well, in writing is probably the best way to do that, and so that’s why I was thinking that would make sense that people would write things on paper.”

The public reaction to the policy has not echoed Colin’s intention.

“This makes it extremely difficult for faculty and staff to talk in areas that they are passionate about,” ASSC senator Nicole Harris said. “My hope is that everybody’s voice can be heard and expressed in a manner that they wish to do so.”

Stroud wanted to be clear that faculty is free to speak to the media without routing it through the PIO, and that Colin’s office is there for support and guidance.

“Go talk to the paper,” Stroud said. “Whatever you think, your opinion, that’s not stuff that goes to the PIO.”

The policy as it is currently written could be interpreted as an infringement of the First Amendment Free Speech Clause regarding prior restraint.

“At no point do I think we have the power to stop people from talking to the media,” Stroud said. “It’s a good lesson for us. We think we’re having one conversation and we’re thinking in this way and people experiencing it very different.”

 

Contributors: Reynaldo Garcia, Shaquill Stewart, and Jeanita Lyman.

Updated: this article headline has been changed from “New “Media Policy” to be revised” to “Media policy causes a reaction” in order to better reflect the article. 8:17 .p.m. 3/17/2014.