Ask an Expert Questions and Answers Reporting

When local agencies don’t notify us of news releases and or a press conference, more than once, what is the best course of action?

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.


By Dianna Hunt

Dianna Hunt, a reporter/editor at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and former co-owner of the weekly Bosque County News, spent more than 25 years at some of the largest newspapers in Texas and in community journalism.

She has worked at The Dallas Morning News, the Houston Chronicle, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, covering a variety of government beats, including multiple City Halls, federal courts, public education and the Texas Legislature.

Many of those years were also spent as a watchdog/investigative reporter producing stories on racial profiling in the Houston area and throughout Texas, improprieties among nonprofits, failure of federal emergency funding to reach the neediest victims of a tornado, and problems within suburban fire departments in North Texas.

She won the Texas APME Freedom of Information award twice and the national Brechner Award for Freedom of Information for packages of stories about open government, and she has also won state and national awards for feature writing, short features and spot news.

She moved into editing in 2001 to oversee the government reporters at the Star-Telegram, and later moved to the business department as an assistant business editor. She recently returned to reporting in a combined reporting/editing role.

She and her husband, longtime Texas journalist Evan Moore, are also former co-owners of the Bosque County News in Meridian, southwest of Fort Worth, covering a county of about 22,000 people with seven cities and eight school districts.

She is a former board member of the Investigative Reporters & Editors organization, and is a member of the Native American Journalists Association. She received a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1981 from the University of Texas at Austin.