Burriss: Minimize those gatekeepers

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In our communication classes we talk about a person called the "gatekeeper," someone who controls the flow of information. That person can be either a reporter or a public official, both of whom have the power to decide what we see and hear, or don't see and hear, in our various forms of media.

In the White House, that gatekeeper is often a pool reporter, someone whose job it is to gather news and then pass reports on to other correspondents. Rather than have every reporter cover every event, the media organizations have for years resorted to this pool system: a small rotating group of reporters who represent all of the other reporters and correspondents.

But there is a little-known second step in the process: the pool reports are actually sent to the White House press office, which then distributes them to thousands of recipients, including not only other reporters, but a wide assortment of federal agencies and offices as well.

But recently there have been complaints that White House press officers are acting as gatekeepers and editors, demanding changes in the pool reports before they are sent out. In most cases the changes have involved minor details, or items sometimes considered out-of-bounds by both the media and the press office.

But the whole idea of having independent journalists is that they can deliver the news free of government influence. And of course the idea behind the White House press office is that they can get their own news our free of media influence.

But these two offices need to be independent of each other: the White House Correspondents Association needs to maintain its own distribution list of recipients who want its pool reports. And the White House can have its own list of recipients who want its reports.

As we said time and time again: the fewer gatekeepers who are involved in the distribution of news, the better informed we will all be.

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Larry Burriss
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