Tribune Herald Has Correction in Department of Public Works Blackballing Bloggers Story “Setting the Record Straight”

The following correction appeared in the “Setting the Record Straight” column of today’s  Hawaii Tribune Herald under the Police Report (it didn’t make it to the online edition)

“Due to a production error, two lines were deleted from Thursday’s article on the county Public Works department media policy.  The complete paragraph, which began on the front page and continued on Page A7, was:

“Whittington wrote the policy, which contains her cell phone number and e-mail address, in mid-November.  She initially said DPW had not implemented a media policy, then changed her answer after being read excerpts from the document”

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I’m reprinting the whole article here as it should read:

The county Department of Public Works has rescinded a recently implemented media policy that sheltered employees from public scrutiny, denied reporters access to road projects and blackballed Internet bloggers.

The 6-page document obtained by the Tribune-Herald directed DPW employees to stop filming attempts, not to talk about cause or fault, and to withhold information from so-called “citizen journalists.”

It said that “anyone implicated in the situation are not to speak to the media,” yet also advised “far more is lost by refusing to speak to the media than is risked by doing do.”

The policy ended when Warren Lee became Public Works director on Dec. 1, said DPW spokeswoman Noelani Whittington said.

“All of this has been rescinded,” she said.

Whittington wrote the policy, which contains her cell phone number and e-mail address, in mid-November. She initially said DPW had not implemented a media policy, then changed her answer after being read exempts from the document.

“I wasn’t denying anything on it. I just didn’t know what you were referring to,” Whittington said in a follow-up interview Wednesday.

Whittington said she might have been very busy when first interviewed occurred Feb. 19.

“Sometimes it takes me a minute to focus,” she said.

In crafting the policy, Whittington said she drew a distinction between bloggers with professional backgrounds and “citizen journalists” lacking that experience.

“It’s a fine line,” she said.

Bloggers often add personal comments to news information, which would be unethical for traditional journalists, including those who do only online reporting.

There was no incident that prompted the policy, but rather a desire to differentiate “new media” from traditional reporters and concern by some employees that they had been filmed for a TV newscast, Whittington said.

The policy specifically instructed DPW employees not to give out information to bloggers Aaron Stene (The Kona Blog) and Damon Tucker (Damon Tucker’s Weblog) and Dave Corrigan of Big Island Videonews.com.

“I’m actually kind of angry about it,” Stene said when told the old policy specifically named him. “It just stinks on all levels on this one.”

Stene, who said he gets about 200 hits daily on the blog he started in October 2005, said he suspected a change because it’s been about six weeks since Lee has returned his calls.

“I consider myself somebody that’s trying to get information for the general public,” he said.

Lee could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Tucker said he rarely asks the Department of Public Works for information, opting instead to republish information he gets from other sources.

“I’m honored they even know my blog exists,” Tucker said of comments he’s been posting for about six months.

There is no question this is not an acceptable media policy,” said Hunter Bishop, public relations specialist for Mayor Billy Kenoi.

“It is not in effect. We do not support this policy,” added Bishop, a former Tribune-Herald reporter who authored a popular blog before pulling it voluntarily when he started working for the county in December.

Bishop said he first heard of the DPW policy this week after the Tribune-Herald inquired about it.

“As far as I know, there are no other media policies in the county, but I can’t say that for sure,” he said.

But that status likely will change, Bishop said.

“We are working on a new general media policy for all departments mainly as a result of seeing this,” he said.

That forthcoming policy will call for fair and equal treatment, he said.

It will treat bloggers like any other media or member of the public,” he said.

When asked how DPW officials now respond to bloggers’ requests for information, Whittington said, “I have no idea.”

2 Responses

  1. The T-H doesn’t need a sense of humor as much as a sense of good journalism. To let Whittington get away with the statement “There was no incident that prompted the policy” without any investigation or exposition is sloppy shoddy work. The fact that the article fails to ask “why” they would have such a strange policy as “stopping taping of road crews” is inexcusable, especially with Dave’s name on the list of the blackballed..

    In a few minutes of research and through a couple of inquires I was able to ascertain from 500 miles away that indeed Dave’s taping of some saddle road paving in August by was apparently connected. My original stab at an explanation might have been off base(or might not) but the real explanation is still an “open secret” except for a brief mention at Aaron Stene’s site.

    Any reporter worth his salt should have been able to smell more to the story and the vapid nature of Whittington’s denial-it stretches credulity to think someone would ban taping of road crews by bloggers- much less ask personnel to interfere with tapers- without any precipitating event.

    To not even mention that an incident of the taping of a road crew led to embarrassment on the part of DPW and might result in a lawsuit- a fact even reported in an article reported in the self-same T-H in September- is crummy shoddy and lazy journalism at best or more likely some sort of corrupt complicity and kow-towing to the county government in keeping the “why” of the story quiet.

    To not at least juxtapose the paving scandal report with the blackballing and make the implied connection is inexcusable. For me it also raises the question “where is the reporter-blogger community over there to call them on it- why do I have to do it from Kaua`i?” when there are so many… or did I miss something?

  2. The omission must have been only in the print edition, as your initial post quoting the article (which, I’m assuming, used the online version as its source) had the paragraph mostly intact.

    I say mostly because because it erroneously used the word “exempts” instead of “excerpts.” My guess is that was probably a spell-checker error, in which the author clicked on the wrong spelling option among those proffered by the computer.

    Dave – Correct…and Incorrect… There you go assuming things again. I re-typed the article word for word yesterday morning before it even went online. I typed it from the print version (which I released online about 2 hours before the Tribune released it online…of course I type about 80 wpm and I had a few typos myself) When the online version came out later in the day… the correct version was there with the completed paragraph. I then re-copied and pasted that information into my blog. (Notice I put the *update* online version now available)

    This just goes to show once again… how an online format can be corrected so quickly and a print format can’t be amended until the next day. Had they published their online version at the same time as their print version… their online version would have been incorrect as well…but they could have fixed it immediately. If you only purchased today’s print version… well then you would be completely out of the loop. So goes it with print.

    Perhaps that maybe why you see no mention of the correction in the online version, because the online version WAS CORRECT to begin with.

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