RTDNA Executive Director and COO Dan Shelley is calling on the Biden Administration to be more open and accessible to journalists. Specifically, Shelley has written to Kate Bedingfield, White House Director of Communications, seeking:
• Greater access to local journalists when the President, Vice President or other key administration official visits communities throughout the United States. Consistently, research shows that the primary source of news for most citizens is a local news outlet in their communities. Hometown journalists are more likely to seek answers to questions of keen interest to the areas in which they themselves work and live.
• An end to the practice of “background with quote approval,” in which administration officials who are asked questions by journalists on background must have their responses vetted, and often edited, by the White House communications team or other administration officials.
• More frequent formal news conferences by President Biden.
• An assurance that journalists are indeed present at all public events involving the President. We are concerned by reports that some events deemed open to pool press coverage have, in fact, allowed no access for journalists at all.
Shelley concluded his letter, below, by stating, “We are acutely grateful that we have a President and administration who do not believe that journalists are ‘the enemy of the American people,’ and that have asserted an understanding of, and appreciation for, the role journalists play in serving their communities, and the public writ large.”
May 21, 2021
Director of Communications
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Ms. Bedingfield,
I write today on behalf of the hundreds of members of the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA), the world’s largest professional association devoted exclusively to broadcast and digital journalists — most of whom work in local television and radio station newsrooms throughout the United States.
First, thank you very much for carrying out President Biden’s directive that his administration be open, transparent and respectful to all citizens, especially, for these purposes, journalists.
Second, I considerately request the following of your office and the Biden administration:
• Please ensure that when the President, Vice President, or other administration officials visit cities and towns throughout the United States that they be more accessible to local radio, television and digital journalists. Consistently, research shows that the primary source of news for most citizens is a local news outlet in their communities. Hometown journalists are more likely to seek answers to questions of keen interest to the areas in which they themselves work and live.
• On behalf of our local journalist members and the national news organization journalists whom we also represent, please make a greater effort to be accessible in general. I am concerned by reports, for example, that administration officials asked to speak on background to journalists must have their responses approved and, in many cases, edited by someone in your office or elsewhere in the White House complex. This “background with quote approval” practice sometimes impedes the free flow of factual information of supreme public importance. I am also concerned about the fact that the President has had far fewer formal news conferences than his recent predecessors, and that some of his events deemed open to press pool coverage have actually excluded journalists.
I am very aware, Ms. Bedingfield, that new administrations generally need some time to “settle in” to best practices as it relates to communications with journalists and the pubic whom journalists serve. Indeed, that is why I have waited four months since the Inauguration to reach out to you. Now, however, you and your colleagues have been in office long enough to establish patterns and procedures that prompt this correspondence.
I would kindly welcome any opportunity to address these issues with you or any member of your team, or the administration. We are acutely grateful that we have a President and administration who do not believe that journalists are “the enemy of the American people,” and that have asserted an understanding of, and appreciation for, the role journalists play in serving their communities, and the public writ large.
Thank you for your consideration of my requests.
RTDNA Executive Director, COO
Contact Dan Shelley, RTDNA Executive Director, for comment.