Minneapolis police to reporters: Stop calling us

Our newsroom received an interesting press release today from the Minneapolis Police Department.

Apparently, reporters around town have been acting like — get this — journalists. And the police department isn’t too pleased. From the release:

During recent months, members of the Minneapolis Police Department have received telephone calls directly from various members of the media. This practice needs to discontinue immediately. Unless you are directed to do so, please do not contact them directly.

The statement, titled, “Message to the media,” instructs reporters to contact one of the two official spokespersons for the police department to “discuss any media related interviews with any City of Minneapolis police employees.”

Being forced to go through a spokesperson is common practice for most agencies these days, much to the frustration of reporters, as summarized by ProPublica last year.

New York Times investigative reporter David Barstow told ProPublica, “The muscles of journalism are weakening and the muscles of public relations are bulking up–as if they were on steroids.”

I called the Minneapolis Police Department spokesperson Sgt. Stephen McCarty to find out what sparked today’s news release and left a voicemail. If I hear back, I’ll update this post.

Update: Sgt. McCarty called me back. He said there wasn’t one specific call from a reporter that led to the statement. I asked him why he issued it.

“We just don’t want everyone talking to the media, that’s why,” he told me.

  • John O.

    It’s no different where I work. You do NOT talk to the press without going through our spokesperson. In some places, that is grounds for termination.

    I suspect another reason for their release is the ongoing expansion in the number and variety of journalists. Certainly, an outlet like MPR is well-known and established and you and your colleagues in the newsroom follow in that tradition. Bloggers? Let’s just say that some are better than others.

  • Jell-O

    I understand the media has a job to do, but so do people in the public sector as well. We’re stretched thin and calls from the media stretch us thinner. Go through the proper communication channels, media!

  • S. Archer

    My guess, the media isn’t calling only when there are public safety issues. A murder? They’re calling. A theft? They’re calling. I’m in a related field, and I know the type of people who would do anything to break a story. Be smart about it media.The police gave you an ORDER, and you’re correct, it isn’t a request. So, you need to do your jobs, but the police need to do theirs, and guess what, for every one of you that’s calling, it takes that much more time away from them trying to actually HELP the situation. Have a little respect.

  • JBL

    I’m guessing reporters who build relationships and trust will still get their inside info. I’d like them to direct cops to starve out those hacks who can’t or won’t get their facts right, aren’t clear what’s on or off the record, or are too sensational. Of course, then we wouldn’t need spokespeople in the first place.

  • Rae

    It’s absolutely ridiculous for the police to issue this statement to the media. They need to communicate this with their employees and make sure their officers are aware of the policy.

    I work as a reporter for a community newspaper and I cover a few small police departments. These departments don’t have media spokesmen, but they all seem to have a rule that reporters must talk to the chief or if the chief isn’t available the person with the highest rank. The departments have never demanded that I only call the chief, but instead I am politely directed to the chief whenever I call with questions.

    It seems like more and more public officials are trying to tell members of the press who they can contact. A few years ago I had a city administrator berate me for contacting the city council with some questions. He said that I was to only ask him or the mayor questions and that it was unprofessional for me to contact the other elected officials. At first I thought he was joking because it’s so absurd.

    Sending out that memo to the press will only lead to animosity. It just would’ve been much more effective to inform all MPD employees that the spokespeople are the only people who are to speak to the press and that all calls from the press should be politely referred to the spokespeople.

  • NB

    This is a bad PR move by the cops, but there’s a lot of truth to the comments here about all the blogs and minor media networks popping up.

    I’m in a different market, working for one of the two large dailies here. We also have quite a few Patch sites covering the area, another web-based community news network, two weekly chains, more than a dozen independent weekly newspapers, and a handful of independent blog-style news sites.

    Yes, police departments get clobbered with calls when something breaks. But it’s more than that. Five years ago, I could get a congressman on the phone without a problem. Now, everyone on down to lower-level state politicians and even mayors and city councilmen have press people, and many of them hand out statements instead of taking calls.

    Like some of the other commenters said, the good reporters will still have their sources and get their jobs done, and the smart press people will quickly figure out who’s worth responding to and who isn’t.

  • SGT Steve McCarty

    Madeleine

    It is not that we don’t want the press calling to speak to various members of our department. As Public Information Officers we facitlite that.There has to be a process. Similar to when you write an article, I would imagine that an editor has to approve it.

    And for your information, our internal policies do dictate that all employees notify one of the two Public Information Officers before speaking to the media.

  • Missy

    I’m a former journalist and glad I got out of it. I worked for a major daily in a much larger city than MPS. But it’s rude people like McCarty whom make writers’ jobs more comlicated, and I’m still a writer.

    McCarty’s post to this MPR site was rude, patronizing and condescending. Wow! But our precinct can 1) Arrest several young, white, adult males on their way home to our house and call it loitering and then want to press charges. That’s called not enough to do! Parents weren’t even consulted if these, now Seniors at Uni, were home for summer break. And 2) Adjacent precinct brought out 15 squads, a helio with strobe lighting and two K-9 units to apprehend two white male teens who were busted for “out after curfew.”

    This former journalist would call that over-kill, and too much Police intervention. What McCarty is doing is called spin!

  • Connie

    So, let me get this straight, a reporter doesn’t want to go through the Public Relations department because they write their reports for, duh, public consumption?

    PR departments exist for a reason.

    Too many times the Fourth Estate has picked up a stray comment or a comment taken out of context and have put the worst possible spin on it, often vilifying victims as well as thinly connected associates and folks in the middle of doing their jobs for whatever they deem will be a little bit sensational on a slow news day.

    Not all reporters do it, but there have been enough to make it necessary for those PR departments to exist.

  • jan

    I don’t think the request was rude at all. I think it spoke directly to it’s audience – the press – and was very succinct. How would you like it if people kept going bothering you and taking your time away from your job?

  • Colleen Coyne

    Why would anyone talk to the media, especially MPR or the government? It can only harm the speaker. Any comment will be repackaged in to distortions and half truths with an ultra liberal spin or making a conservative appear as a knuckling dragging sloth. The media has lost all respect and their selective reporting is the reason for this distrust.

    While it never a good idea to speak to any police person without an attorney, for police are only have a clearing of a case, i.e. a crime ===> a suspect. Conviction or lack there of is the fault of the DA. The speaker has a slime chance to being cleared by his/her good attorney and the slipshod presentation of the recent LS grad acting as a DA in training. No such safety value is extant with the media. The only story is that which the reports editor wants to propagandize at this moment in time.

  • BJ Johnson

    I think that the fact that the Police Spokesperson, Sgt McCarthy can’t even spell correctly in his post indicates the quality of the PR we are going to get from the Police Department. The intemperance of the response is dismaying.