Our story on media access to local government brought an interesting response from a long-time reporter for a local TV station.
Jim Piggott of News4Jax said, “I’ve been covering City Hall for 35 years and, yes, I remember when things were much more open.”
Yet, he says he still goes to City Hall every morning and makes the rounds.
“I go into the City Council offices. And I make it to the mayor’s reception area. They have limited access to him but I check in with those behind the locked doors every day.”
“I review the mayors mail and emails while I am there. I am very surprised that nobody else from any TV, radio or even the newspaper does that anymore.”
Apparently, City Hall is more open than we thought, although the current mayor’s tendency to play favorites could account for Piggot’s access.
Piggott’s comment about limited access to the mayor also is telling. When I covered City Hall I could walk into the mayor’s office anytime. (So could other reporters.) Even if he was meeting with other officials, I was usually ignored.
However, I can take a hint. If the conversation stopped, it was clear they had things to say they didn’t want me to hear so I would get up and leave – knowing that I could call one or more participants later and get an off-the-record briefing on what was discussed.
Piggott agrees, however, that the police have shut down tightly.
“I remember reading police reports every morning which they no longer allow access to. I keep pushing for the station to fight back on them closing the doors. Maybe if more people would speak up like you things could change for the better.”
If the police are hiding offense reports and jail dockets, which are public record, they might be in store for a legal challenge.
This veteran reporter’s response gives us more detail, yet reinforces our view that access to the media is much curtailed from the 1970s, when politicians realized that you can run but can’t hide and were willing to help the media do its job – when the media was willing to do so.
The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office in particular is worrisome. We had one conversation with Sheriff Mike Williams weeks ago and he has not returned calls since. I’ve known every sheriff since Dale Carson personally and never had one that didn’t talk to me.
We hope Williams has just been busy fighting crime. When you have to use the power of a state law just to find out how many cops there are, as we did, there’s something wrong with the system.