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Editors' note: Why we don't publish KSU PR

KSU executive or council members have asked us on at least three occasions this semester about the “angle” our stories would be taking, including last night after the in-camera session – something that we wouldn’t tell the Prime Minister if he asked.

Yesterday, King’s Students’ Union council went into four in-camera sessions, totaling more than 90 minutes of undocumented time. A quarter of the entire meeting was spent in secrecy, leaving our reporters on the other side of the Boardroom doors.
Let’s not kid ourselves here. The majority of time spent in these in-camera sessions was probably not spent discussing anything damning or malicious. For the most part, the KSU uses these in-camera times as strategy sessions so council can speak frankly about hypothetical plans and their legalities without sending anyone to the chopping block. That said, it’s pretty reminiscent of city council’s “secrecy” of late and we’re sorry to see the KSU follow that trend.
It’s a trend not just coming through in KSU council meetings. We’ve received two press releases during this athletics fee debate – the first about referendum results and the second about a letter writing campaign and fitness class protest. Yes, we’ve heard the argument for press releases as a way to give out information – but our job is not to reprint press releases. The KSU needs to be willing to answer questions from King’s journalists, who are writing stories for King’s students.

Related story:
KSU votes to ‘announce its dissent’ from athletics fee approval

Last night, they were unwilling to explain what happened in-camera and what they had decided to do, except to say they would issue a press release. We’re aware the details of the in-camera session cannot be discussed, but when council members direct us to press releases instead of being questioned openly and honestly about their decisions, as elected student representatives, this is a gesture of secrecy and silence on their part. If all they’re going to do is have a fitness class protest, why should we care about that, especially as the entirety of their gesture of dissent?
The whole situation is condescending. To send out a press release without answering questions fully – especially at a school with such well-established relationships between student media and the union – is a weak move on the part of the union and an attempt to frame our coverage.
We value our working relationship with the union. Our office is located next door to the KSU office, and we appreciate being able to drop in and ask them questions on a casual basis every day.
KSU executive or council members have asked us on at least three occasions this semester about the “angle” our stories would be taking, including last night after the in-camera session – something that we wouldn’t tell the Prime Minister if he asked. It’s not appropriate at all. We trust and support our writers to do a good, honest job, no matter what story they’re working on, and no matter what step they are at along the road of learning to be a journalist. Those in the stories cannot be privy to the final draft before publication.
We understand the need for the KSU to have a working relationship with the media outlets in town who receive releases. Our purpose, as journalists with the Watch, is, yes, to report on King’s news events, but also to question those in the stories – not just the administration, but the KSU, as well. This is our job as journalists. We simply ask that council shows our reporters respect by speaking with them, rather than directing them to a press release.
Respectfully,
Ben Harrison and Rachel Ward

By David J. Shuman

David is a second-year journalism student at King's, is engagement/news editor of The Watch, and a copy editor of The Pigeon. He writes on student politics, campus happenings, and school news. 

5 replies on “Editors' note: Why we don't publish KSU PR”

While I can see how the editors of the Watch are frustrated at not being privy to the in-camera council session (which, as you correctly guessed, had to do with sensitive strategy information) I have to take issue with the ‘ksu PR’ assertion of this piece.
As you point out, the KSU sent the Watch, and other media outlets, 2 official
correspondences, however, this editor’s note does not include the important fact that in every correspondence we have included a press contact: me.
As of my writing this, I have not received one request from the Watch for an
interview or even the contact information of other members of the KSU council for interviewing — information I would have gladly shared. In fact, despite my approaching the original Watch reporter after today’s action and offering my services as press contact, in person, I still have not received any follow up.
I too value the relationship that the KSU and the Watch share, and despite the tone of your editorial, there was no Harperesque plan to shut out media on this issue. We are a union with only one full time staff person and in addition to the entire executive having exams to prepare for and papers to write, we have no desire to shut you out and see our productive relationship be thrown away.
In fact, since hearing of about your editorial displeasure, members of our executive and council approached the Watch Editors, repeatedly to offer information on the subject.
It’s disappointing to see that there appears to be a lack of communication between the KSU and our school’s main news magazine and I would like to continue to extend the existing channels of communication in an effort to remedy the situation.
There are a lot of important issues to cover at our school and this shouldn’t have to be one of them.
Sincerely,
-0mri Haiven
VP External of the KSU

I recall many years being privy to an in-camera meeting on the subject of substantial sum of money owed by the KSU to the CFS. Now that this is distant history, I wonder if I can spill the beans?
Can’t the ksu buy an ad?

Omri–
I’ve been a KSU executive for two years, and a Watch staffer for a year before being the editor-in-chief for a year. So I feel like I can have some idea of where I’m coming from when I say that I’m not sure you know how political journalism works.
Media contacts are a starting point, sure, but I can guarantee you that any story that I wrote that was inspired by a press release–and that HAS to be in the 5-per-cent range–the press person was contacted only half the time, and usually only as a starting point. Especially in a school as small as King’s, there is no need for a point person; when the story is something like the gym-fee issue (of which I am ill-informed so I’m not speaking to any specifics here), I myself would have not liked to run a story on the fitness event as much as I’d like to have run. My gut is that the Watch’s editorial sense veered in the same direction–and likely the campaign-focussed EVP was not the person mainly responsible for it. If there is a finance-focussed story, I wouldn’t talk to the Student Life VP; if there is an issue with TWAK, I would not necessarily seek out the President. “Official correspondances” often are unhelpful when it comes down to story-writing. This is a small council governing a small student body. Yes, decisions are significant and affect a community, but it isn’t fair to take offense to the fact that journalists, armed with information of their own and a nose for what kind of story they want to seek out, want to go to other sources, probably on the council too.
My hope is that anyone on council is forthcoming. I remember my time on the KSU executive as generally difficult yet thankless; I remember when the union would have killed to have any-type-of-nosed journalists just to show the kind of work they were doing on a daily basis. Both bodies advocate for student issues, and that shouldn’t be forgotten. That’s why I’m disappointed the union may now resort to press releases for the student press; for fear of sounding like the oldest old person, they didn’t do that back in mah day. And what reason was there to do it, when you sit next to councillors in class, to sources in the Wardroom?
I think the Watch is right in their decision to make this statement here; in fact, your note that “in fact, since hearing of about your editorial displeasure, members of our executive and council approached the Watch Editors, repeatedly to offer information on the subject”, is proof positive that this was an appropriate step.
Being questioned is good. Being questioned can make you angry, for all the reasons of thanklessness and hard work I mentioned before–but being questioned also means that people care, and reaffirms to you that you’re doing things for the right reasons.
Now, I doubt very much that this was in “Harperesque” intent. I’m certain, though, as both parities are pretty deeply left-wing, no one really intended the H-word to be used with such vitriol. One must continue, however, to think about optics. I don’t think the union was wilfully trying to freeze out the Watch, and so for both, I suggest a move beyond the angry black-and-whites and an understanding of each other in the grays.
So the real issue lies between the two.
Sometimes, in-camera sessions mean dealing with significant monies and actual legal issues. Most of the time, though, it is to talk about hirings and payment, which are not vital matters, and selections to committees. Let’s not forget, too, that off-the-record remains a vital space, and that what one group may deem informing may not be to everyone.
I remember when the KSU would have been thrilled to get regular notice for the work it did through a publication that had a fairly significant readership. That happens together. Let’s no one get bigger than their own britches.
– Adrian
(Also, if I’m going to get snippy, I’d also say that the reason we created the pricey Internal Coordinator position in the first place was so that we could no longer have excuses like “We are a union with only one full time staff person and in addition to the entire executive having exams to prepare for and papers to write”. Ah, I guess I got a bit snippy at the end there, anyway. Such is the cost of wisdom no one asked for.)

I would like to add that when you said: “Last night, they were unwilling to explain what happened in-camera and what they had decided to do, except to say they would issue a press release.”
One of the rules of in-camera is that they cannot speak about it later… The reason for in-camera tend to be on purpose and not just to keep your magazine from releasing information to Kings students. Council is for the students and they will get the information out there when they are ready.

“In-camera can also describe closed board meetings that cover information not recorded in the minutes or divulged to the public. Such sessions may discuss personnel, financial, or other sensitive decisions that must be kept secret (e.g., a proposed merger or strategic change the organization does not want disclosed to competitors).””We’re aware the details of the in-camera session cannot be discussed, but when council members direct us to press releases instead of being questioned openly and honestly about their decisions, as elected student representatives, this is a gesture of secrecy and silence on their part. ”
It is not a gesture on their part at all as they cannot talk about it due to the fact that it was discussed in-camera.

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