Forum Probes ‘Future State of Local News’

Local news gatherers joined media specialists in a televised forum last week and discussed the mechanics and challenges of information sharing.

Part of Access Humboldt’s Sunshine Week programming, the March 13 Future State of Local News forum focused on issues related to freedom of information. Allie Hostler, the editor of the Two Rivers Tribune, had a different take as her paper is subsidized by the Hoopa Valley tribe and the state’s Public Records Act doesn’t apply to tribal governments.

The tribe has its own system for processing information requests but Hostler said that “often times, that’s a struggle, too, because there’s no recourse, there’s no system in place to actually see those documents arrive on our desks,” she said. “So we can file all the paperwork we want and never actually see the information.”

Hostler pointed out that the area is “rich with tribal governments” and “to really do due diligence to cover this area, we really need to figure out how we access tribal documents and tribal records.”

One of the forum’s panelists, Jorge Padejski, has created the Freedom of Information Machine, a tool that allows reporters to advance and track multiple Freedom of Information Act requests.

Responding to Hostler’s comments, he said requests for information that aren’t legally ensured carry more weight when they’re supported by groups of people rather than individuals.

Later in the forum, KMUD community radio News Director Terri Klemetson initiated a discussion on dealing with out-of-county agencies and accessing information on non-governmental groups.

Local independent producer Jan Kraepelien suggested that local news outlets “join forces” to produce in-depth reports and Sean Quincy, Humboldt County’s public information officer, talked about Open Humboldt, the county’s new online discussion  forum.

There was also discussion about how residents can influence news reporting. “The citizens can play a really important role,” said Times-Standard Editor Kimberly Wear, adding that residents can influence coverage by contacting reporters to inform them of community issues.

“So you would invite leads from citizens with ears on the ground?” asked forum moderator and Access Humboldt Executive Director Sean McLaughlin.

“Absolutely,” Wear responded, saying her paper’s reporters are responsive to phone calls, e-mails and messages on the paper’s Facebook page. “It really does help us,” she continued.

North Coast Journal Editor Carrie Peyton-Dahlberg talked about a recent report she wrote about her experience with Eureka police officers, who she said tried to stop her from taking photos of a car search in the parking lot of the Eureka Public Library.

“They said ‘no photos’ and it got more uncomfortable from there because I was aware of the law and said, ‘No, actually, we can take photos in public places,’” she said.

The Eureka Police have a video of the encounter and Peyton-Dahlberg said the Journal wants to see it. A March 14 website message from Journal Publisher Judy Hodgson indicates that the police have reviewed the matter and found that officers did not act inappropriately.

That’s a conclusion that will get scrutiny.

Peyton-Dahlberg emphasized that photographs, including photos of evidence, can be taken of police in action when they’re in public places.

“Journalists sometimes have to be very careful and say to police, ‘No, you cannot have our pictures,’” she said.

Cole Goins of the Center for Investigative Reporting was also a panelist, explaining his group’s goals and its recent investigation into the Department of Veterans Affairs’ delays in delivering benefits to veterans.

Access Humboldt’s Sunshine Week programming also includes a series of interviews with local news editors and reporters on the importance of transparency and access to information.