Aztec Press Editorial: PCC needs to let some light in

Journalists celebrate “Sunshine Week” during March to encourage freedom of information and open government. Pima Community College is one public institution that needs to let in more light.

PCC provides documents as mandated by law, but keeps a tight noose around release of information.

When a media outlet, including the Aztec Press, requests an interview or even a comment from any college employee, PCC’s marketing department insists on first granting “permission.” Further, the marketing department consistently requests a list of advance questions.

More often than not, a marketing department spokesperson answers the questions via e-mail instead of allowing a reply from the appropriate source.

Many journalism schools won’t allow telephone or e-mail interviews, but PCC has consistently made it clear that it prefers those forms of communication.

In the rare case when a face-to-face interview is approved, a public relations person sits in. That can intimidate both the reporter and the interviewee

PCC employees have been advised not to comment on sensitive topics, such as the college’s connection to former student Jared Loughner, the suspect in Tucson’s Jan. 8 mass shootings.

Instructors, in theory, have freedom to speak to whomever they please on any topic. However, many instructors contacted by the Aztec Press decline to talk about even noncontroversial topics. They’ve been cowed by pressure from the top.

And make no mistake: Pima’s marketing department follows instructions from Chancellor Roy Flores.

PCC’s “stonewalling” has been noted by seasoned journalists in coverage ranging from the New York Times to local KGUN9 News.

After highly publicized criticism from KGUN9, the chancellor moved the head of marketing to a new job. (See story, Page 1.) Unfortunately, acting college spokesperson Paul Schwalbach, a former newspaper reporter who should know better, handles media requests in the same way.

In addition to a fully staffed marketing department, Pima has contracted with an outside firm, Gordley Design Group, since 2008. The college has delegated all questions about the Jan. 8 shooting to Gordley, which has gained notoriety for refusing interview requests.

Budget documents obtained by the Aztec Press through a Freedom of Information request show Gordley will be paid $309,000 for “marketing and advertising services” for the fiscal year that runs from July 2010 to June 2011.

PCC’s attempts to control information are misguided and counterproductive. Their media policies are unacceptable and need to change.

-Written by News Editor Debbie Hadley on behalf of the student newspaper editorial board.

3 thoughts on “Aztec Press Editorial: PCC needs to let some light in

  1. Just to start, I’m not employed at PCC but I did attend two years of continuing education (a full two year course of undergraduate calculus) as an adult (over 30) there.

    Reporters – especially younger student reporters – often seem to misunderstand the regulatory constraints under which organizations engaged in educational or health services operate. In most cases, when in doubt – and there are lots of doubts a local community college would have, especially with the budgetary constraints these days (a successful lawsuit, for example, against the college would be enough to put an end to a lot of services there) – the best rule is to say nothing.

    It’s my understanding that Loughner’s defense attorney has already raised issues with certain disclosures the prison housing him has made. In an atmosphere like that, keeping in mind both a) anything they say may be used by the defense and b) could result in a lawsuit by one or more of the victims, they really are better off keeping their mouths shut.

    I understand it makes your job more difficult and the crowd at KGUN can howl like a coyote all they want, but this is the reality. File suit, if you really want it, and let the courts sort it out. Expect PCC (or anyone else) to fight it under a number of reasons but largely because by fighting it, they protect themselves from liability claims.

    It’s not a conspiracy, it’s certainly not personal – though you may feel it is – but it’s rather an attempt to make the best use of taxpayer dollars (instead of funneling them toward a settlement).

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