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At the end of last month, San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor stopped by the offices of one of the city’s local papers. She wasn’t happy with how the San Antonio Express-News was covering police-community relations meetings that were launched in September.
Mayor Taylor thought the daily’s reporting was undermining the new initiative. Brian Chasnoff is a columnist at the Express-News and sat in on that meeting.
“She said that she thinks a local daily newspaper should be a partner in promoting the health and vitality of the community,” Chasnoff says. “And she acknowledged that reporters and columnists should hold leaders accountable but she said quote – ‘that has to be within the context of advancing the community not merely to erode confidence in leaders and processes.”
And to Chasnoff that seemed kind of messed up.
“I don’t think the press should ever be expected to partner with government, I think our first and most important job is to observe government,” he says.
That gets to the heart of this conflict – journalists weren’t able to observe a couple of these police-community relations meetings because they were closed to the press. Mayor Taylor notes a criminal justice professor said it would be easier to foster trust between participants at private meetings.
“So the first meeting was designed to build those relationships and it was recommended to us that we’d be more effective at doing that if press weren’t allowed in that meeting,” Taylor says.
Even though participants themselves didn’t ask to exclude the press, Taylor was concerned they could stoke tensions – not ease them.
“That was my point when I went into the newspaper – we’re trying to save lives, we’re trying to reduce the incidences of deadly encounters between police and community,” she says. “And we’re trying to restore trust in the community so that if an encounter does occur we don’t have civil unrest here in San Antonio.”
But Chasnoff argues you can’t build community trust without the transparency provided by press coverage.
“Otherwise we don’t have a clear idea of what’s going on and that can lead to questions, to rumors, to conspiracy theories, by opened up, I think that would relieve tension,” Chasnoff says.
Taylor says the next police-community relations meeting scheduled for next week will be open to the press. But she still reserves the right to close future meetings.
Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson is meeting with President-Elect Donald Trump in New York today. The Texas energy executive is reportedly under consideration for U.S. Secretary of State.
Tarrant County needs to start providing election materials in Vietnamese – that’s because the number of Vietnamese-speaking adults has passed a federal benchmark. The U.S. Census Bureau made the announcement Monday.