Should Reporters Go To Off-The-Record Meeting With AG MacDonald?

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Official photo

Gov. Chris Sununu, left, is pictured swearing in Attorney General Gordon MacDonald.

By Nancy West, InDepthNH.org

Attorney General Gordon MacDonald has invited me and some other journalists to an informal meeting on Nov. 7 to discuss the media’s access to information. Not all New Hampshire news outlets got an invitation, but not sure why.

The only problem is the meeting is “off-the-record.” Do you think I should go representing InDepthNH.org or sit it out unless he changes his mind and allows us to report on the meeting? Weigh in by emailing me yeah or nay and why to nancywestnews@gmail.com

The invitation came from AG MacDonald’s new director of communications, Kate Spiner, and seems very well-intentioned. She is the first to hold the newly created position.

“The AG recognizes that an important part of my role will be to improve access to information and to establish a more comprehensive process to better address media needs in a timely and effective manner. But, we need your input!” Spiner wrote.

A couple of problems:

I have asked by phone and email a number of times to speak with AG MacDonald and have never gotten through. (Same with Gov. Sununu) Unlike Sununu, MacDonald at least has someone from his office return my call or provide the information I need to report to you.

I guess I have been around New Hampshire too long. I remember attorney generals and governors who publicly listed their home numbers and made it their business to speak directly with reporters in person or by phone, not send some canned statement via a news release, although it’s been a while.

That’s pretty much how the Congressional delegation works now, too, pre-packaged, e-mailed statements.

That’s why at InDepthNH.org, we make it clear when information we publish comes via e-mail all neatly printed with no opportunity to ask a follow-up question. But even journalists disagree on off-the-record.

What does off-the-record even mean? Some people think it means the reporter can’t attribute off-the-record information to the source. Others think the information can’t be used at all. Most people think it should be agreed upon before the conversation starts, but not everyone knows that. A lot of gray areas, here.

In my 30 plus years as a reporter, I have learned the less I do off-the-record the better. When I talk with sources and elected and appointed officials, I am there for one reason alone – to represent you.

I am, in fact, your stand-in so I want to get as much information as possible, like you would do if you were there and the question directly affected the people you care about.

Sometimes people want to sling mud “off-the-record,” sometimes they want to reveal wrongdoing, but are in fear of losing their job or even their life, so I have to evaluate each request individually.

So what could an attorney general – the state’s chief law enforcement officer – want to discuss “off-the record” with the people who stand in for you? What would you want me to ask him? What would you ask?

If I go, I will find out. But then I won’t be able to tell you. And after all, that’s my job.

Should I go or should I say no thanks unless the meeting is on the record. Help me think this through. Please e-mail your response to nancywestnews@gmail.com

Here is the invitation.


Hi Nancy,

Attorney General Gordon MacDonald invites you to participate in an informal, off-the-record, meeting on November 7 at 10 a.m. at the Department of Justice.

On September 14th, I began my role as the Director of Communications. This is a new position at the Department of Justice. The AG recognizes that an important part of my role will be to improve access to information and to establish a more comprehensive process to better address media needs in a timely and effective manner. But, we need your input!

Please come prepared with specific suggestions and questions. Our objective is to maximize the timely release of information balanced with our attorneys’ professional obligations and to protect the integrity of the cases we are involved in.

Please RSVP to me by November 1 if you plan to attend.

If you would like someone from your organization to participate in your place, please let me know!

Thank you!

Kate

Kate Spiner

Director of Communications

NH Office of the Attorney General

Department of Justice

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