Unfortunately, there is no legal requirement that notices and press releases be distributed evenly. If a quorum of officials is present, a public notice must be posted at the appropriate place but there is no posting requirement for a press conference. I’d recommend that your first course of action would be to sit down with the official or officials in charge and discuss the issues. Explain that you want to be fair about your coverage, and you’re disturbed that they are trying to exclude your readers from the information that they believe is important. Make them realize this is not about you but about members of the public who rely on you for information. Sometimes that will give them the opportunity to rant and rave at you, and then you can all move forward.
As we all know, however, rational arguments do not always work. That leaves the old-fashionioned reporting approach:
- Are there public officials who are more sympathetic to you who could alert you to these events? Cultivate those people, and make sure you protect their identities, or they likely will be cut off, too.
- If you believe a press release has been issued, make an open records request for it. If they delay in giving it to you, file a complaint with the Texas Attorney General’s office. (Information that has already been released publicly is considered public under the law and can’t be withheld, generally.)
- Make an effort to show up regularly at every event and activity you hear about. I realize this takes a lot of staff time, but perhaps you could do this on a short-term basis until basic courtesies have been re-established.
- Do they have a working Web site? Constant checks to the Web site can also alert you to activities.
Rebuilding lines of communication can be very difficult. Quite honestly, sometimes there’s nothing you can do about it except to continue covering issues the way you believe they should be covered. You can also point out in your coverage that officials have refused to provide information, or refused to discuss issues. But that shouldn’t stop you from continuing to cover the things that are important in your community.