Mayor apologizes for communications breakdown with student reporters

ILLINOIS -- After three weeks of unanswered phone calls from city employees, the mayor of Carbondale apologized to student journalists yesterday for a communication breakdown between city staff and a college newspaper.

''Because there was a conflict, real or otherwise, I apologize for that miscommunication of no communication,'' said Mayor Brad Cole to the editorial board of the Daily Egyptian, the student newspaper at Southern Illinois University, according to an article published today in the paper.

Despite the apologies, a previous policy that required all media inquiries to be directed to City Manager Jeff Doherty remains in place, said Doherty.

That policy is ''highly inefficient,'' said Zack Creglow, editor in chief of the Daily Egyptian, and prevents student reporters from directly approaching city employees for information.

Creglow said Daily Egyptian reporters will continue to contact city employees directly.

''If they get referred, they get referred,'' he said. ''We'll keep trying.''

The mayor's meeting with the newspaper staff culminated weeks of conflict between city staff and student reporters.

The paper publicized the communication impasse in a March 27 article that claimed Doherty, the city manager, said he would no longer communicate with Daily Egyptian reporters, and that he had instructed city employees to get his permission before speaking to reporters.

Doherty said the paper's claims that he refused to comment were ''untrue.'' While he said he did recently instruct city staff to direct media inquiries to his office, those instructions were

''not related to the Daily Egyptian directly'' and were instead an ''internal media relations issue.''

''I never made any instruction to tell people to not speak with them,'' Doherty said.

In a March 10 e-mail he sent to Bethany Krajelis, city editor for the Daily Egyptian, Doherty expressed his dissatisfaction with an article on a city childcare center.

In that e-mail, Doherty wrote, ''Please be advised, and please advise your editors and reporters, that I will not respnd (sic) to [Daily Egyptian] inquiries until the paper corrects the inaccurate article and headlines it.''

Eric Fidler, faculty adviser to the Daily Egyptian, said when Doherty told reporters he would no longer comment to them, ''he was very clear in his language.''

Doherty said he has always been responsive to Southern Illinois University student journalists who have covered city issues. At the same time, he said, he expects student journalists to take responsibility for their errors.

''Our student journalists are taught by me to take responsibility for their errors,'' Fidler said in response to Doherty's statement. ''We're not shy about running corrections, but I still don't see that there were errors here.''

Cole, the city's mayor, said that to his knowledge no memo had been sent to city employees instructing them not to speak directly with reporters from the

Daily Egyptian.

''If there was some blanket no-comment position, then that would be something that would be unsettling to me,'' he said of the Daily Egyptian's claims that Doherty had refused to speak with reporters.

Creglow, the paper's editor, said Cole's meeting with the newspaper staff was a positive step. City employees, including Cole and Doherty, are ''communicating with a vigor we haven't seen in a while,'' he said.

But keeping the ''media inquiry'' policy in place is a setback and a compromise, he said.

''We were skeptical at the [meeting] that this will last until we have to publish a story that will anger some people,'' Creglow said. ''But this played out in a manner that is very uplifting to see.

''This should instill the realization that we do have a power, we need to be responsible with that power, and when we are responsible, there are can be significant changes.''

Daily Egyptian, Illinois, news, Southern Illinois University

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