*UPDATE* “Damon Tucker” Blackballed by the County

*update* The article itself is now available online at the Tribune Herald’s Website here.

I mentioned briefly yesterday, that I thought that a “Gag Order” was placed on county employees from speaking to me and a few other bloggers.

Today’s Hawaii Tribune Herald  confirms that (I will link article as soon as it’s posted online)

The county Department of Public Works has rescinded a recently implemented media policy that sheltered employees from public scrutiny, denied reporters access to road projects and blackballed Internet bloggers.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“All of this has been rescinded,” she said.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

E-mail Jason Armstrong at jarmstrong@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

10 Responses

  1. As I mentioned on Punaweb, let’s remember that it was not the “county” but one of its departments that was responsible for this debacle, so let’s not paint with too broad a brush.

  2. From WHT:

    Public Works media
    policy quickly killed
    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 six-page document
    obtained by Stephens Media
    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 so.”
    The policy ended when
    Warren Lee became Public
    Works director on Dec. 1, said
    DPW spokeswoman Noelani
    Whittington said.
    “There is no question this
    is not an acceptable media
    policy,” said Hunter Bishop,
    public relations specialist for
    Mayor Billy Kenoi.

  3. This is disturbing on so many levels.

    Public officials should be required to blog not hide them.

    Where’s the county administration blog again?

    If more information came from the County, this wouldn’t be happening.

    Get your Social Media Pass for the Hawaii Island Sustainability Forum, here:
    http://greencollartech.com/hi-sustainability-forum-social-media-partnerships

  4. What does “teh” mean? ha ha

    Damon, please don’t stoop to HTH level with misspellings!

    But otherwise, good job with your blog. I don’t really ever read Aaron’s, and I think Hunter will be more forthcoming than other PR advisors.

  5. Well at least the blogs are getting noticed, a sign of increasing importance? Let us hope the county, or at least Hunter, puts together a reasonable policy with respect to the new media.

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