Mayor apologizes for communications breakdown with student reporters

ILLINOIS — After three weeks of unanswered phone calls from city employees, the mayor ofCarbondale apologized to student journalists yesterday for a communicationbreakdown between city staff and a college newspaper.

”Becausethere was a conflict, real or otherwise, I apologize for that miscommunicationof no communication,” said Mayor Brad Cole to the editorial board of theDaily Egyptian, the student newspaperat Southern Illinois University, according to an article published today in the paper.

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

That policy is ”highlyinefficient,” said Zack Creglow, editor in chief of theDaily Egyptian, and prevents studentreporters from directly approaching city employees forinformation.

Creglow said DailyEgyptian 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 withthe newspaper staff culminated weeks of conflict between city staff and studentreporters.

The paper publicized the communication impasse in a March27 article that claimed Doherty, the city manager, said he would no longer communicate withDaily Egyptian reporters, and that hehad instructed city employees to get his permission before speaking toreporters.

Doherty said the paper’s claims that he refused tocomment were ”untrue.” While he said he did recently instruct citystaff to direct media inquiries to his office, those instructions were

”not related to the DailyEgyptian directly” and were instead an ”internal mediarelations issue.”

”I never made any instruction to tellpeople to not speak with them,” Doherty said.

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

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

EricFidler, faculty adviser to the DailyEgyptian, said when Doherty told reporters he would no longer comment tothem, ”he was very clear in his language.”

Doherty saidhe has always been responsive to Southern Illinois University studentjournalists who have covered city issues. At the same time, he said, he expectsstudent journalists to take responsibility for theirerrors.

”Our student journalists are taught by me to takeresponsibility for their errors,” Fidler said in response toDoherty’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 cityemployees instructing them not to speak directly with reporters from the

Daily Egyptian.

”Ifthere was some blanket no-comment position, then that would be something thatwould be unsettling to me,” he said of theDaily Egyptian‘s claims thatDoherty had refused to speak with reporters.

Creglow, thepaper’s editor, said Cole’s meeting with the newspaper staff was apositive step. City employees, including Cole and Doherty, are”communicating with a vigor we haven’t seen in a while,” hesaid.

But keeping the ”media inquiry” policy in place isa 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 angersome people,” Creglow said. ”But this played out in a manner that isvery uplifting to see.

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