With Gawker‘s Push, Correspondents’ Association Gets More Transparent

Last week, Gawker took the bold step of making White House "pool reports," mostly available only to other journalists, publicly accessible. The president of the White House Correspondents Association, the group that organizes the correspondent-written briefings, tentatively gave the effort its blessing.

For the most part, the reports are somewhat dry and … suffice it to say, dull.

Nonetheless, the pool reports written by White House correspondents are pretty much the best way to summarize the various details about the movements of the president and other leaders in the executive branch.

These reports, organized and managed by the White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA), started as printouts from the White House press room. Now they exist as a constant stream of daily emails, accessible only to fellow journalists deemed important enough to have access to the raw feed.

Well, until now, that is. Last week the eye-poking media outlet Gawker launched a new website intended to make all of these reports public, with the help of a little technological know-how.

“This is actually a resurrection of a project we launched, and soon abandoned, back in 2009,” John Cook, Gawker’s executive editor of investigations, explained in a blog post. “The difference this time is that publication is automated, and won’t rely on a Gawker Media staffer finding the time to copy, paste, and publish the latest report manually.”

Transparency Controversial

Coming in the midst of Sunshine Week, the move definitely fits in with the media’s desire for more transparency in the federal government. But Gawker’s action nonetheless alarmed some reporters, who were concerned about both their personal privacy and the competitive advantages some might attain from the automated report.

“Some people object to putting in all of that work and then submitting reports from which others draw and prosper without ever putting in a day’s work,” WHCA President Christi Parsons told Poynter. “On the other hand, others feel that this is a public good, even a public service, and that it belongs to anyone who wants it on the exact same time frame as the soldiers who do the work.”

Cook emphasized that his company’s reasons for releasing the information online were not to gain a competitive advantage.

“This is not a traffic play, but it’s more about doing an easy thing that opens up some information that might be of interest to a small community,” he told Capital New York.

And the press association has received assurance about one previous concern: Gawker emphasized to WHCA’s board that it would remove email addresses and phone numbers from pool reports.

“A flood of phone calls and emails would make it hard for our volunteer poolers to do their jobs AND write quality pool reports,” Parsons said to Capital New York. “Nobody wants that.”

Parsons, who is also a White House correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, added that the association is not interested in concealing the pool reports. “It’s good news that people care to read them,” she said.

(Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!