March 14, 2017

Outside the news conference

Gov. Susana Martinez at her post-session press conference in 2016.

Earlier this year, the president of the United States referred to journalists from news organizations such as the New York Times, CNN and NBC News as the “enemy of the American people.” Shortly after that, reporters from those outlets and others were barred from the White House press gaggle.

As Sunshine Week dawns, New Mexico journalists can commiserate with colleagues across the country who are under fire from hostile politicians.

More importantly, we can assure them that there is life outside the news conference.

Sarah Gustavus is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande Chapter board and the producer of New Mexico In Focus.

It has become a New Mexico tradition for gubernatorial administrations to blacklist journalists who expose stories politicians would rather keep quiet. The situation has worsened under Gov. Susana Martinez, who avoids open news conferences and restricts access to even basic information from several state agencies. The Martinez administration is, in fact, set to go on trial for serial violations of the Inspection of Public Records Act, one of our state’s sunshine laws. For possibly the first time anywhere in the country, the governor’s men will go to court to face accusations of violating the Santa Fe Reporter’s free expression rights under the state Constitution because they did not care for the newspaper’s coverage of her governance.

Despite these challenges, New Mexico journalists never stopped working for the public.

Outside the press gaggle and beyond the official propaganda released by state officials, we keep telling the real stories of what is happening across New Mexico. The best and most important stories we write or produce don’t come out of news conferences, which, no matter who is in charge, rarely include much news. They come to us through hard work and investigative reporting. They are brought to us by brave people who have stories to tell—about their communities, their workplaces, their children’s schools and their personal experiences.

We continue to serve the public’s best interest, shining a light on government wrongdoing — no matter the political leaning or party — and telling the stories so important to our neighbors. Even when we’re turned away from briefing rooms or when elected officials avoid our questions, we’ll unearth good stories. We always have.

As we celebrate the public’s right to know this Sunshine Week, the Rio Grande Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is fighting on a number of fronts. We’ve been keeping watch on a raft of anti-transparency bills wending through the Legislature. And we are disturbed by entrenched government “public information officers” who are less and less likely to provide information to the public, as well as elected officials who would rather offer affirmational spin as “alternative facts” via social media than answer questions from journalists about how they govern.

No matter how those fights turn out — and no matter how many “news” conferences we’re shut out of — journalists in this state will continue to shine a light in dark corners and bring important stories in the public interest out of the shadows, no matter what it takes.