Pocatello Seminar

From the Post Register

By Dean Miller
POCATELLO – A code of ethics is just words on a page, until you act on it.

KPVI, Channel 6 walked the talk last week.

Anchor/News Director Brenda Baumgartner and a half-dozen staffers spent the night of Oct. 14th at Highland High School putting on a series of skits that are the background of a successful public workshop on open records and open meetings.

The standard American code of newsroom ethics challenges journalists to work for openness in government and KPVI staffers did it.

They played the part of helpful and not-helpful courthouse clerks, secretive county commissioners, obnoxious reporters, grumpy citizens and earnest voters.

The audience, a mix of staffers from government offices around the region laughed, nodded heads and scowled. But the audience did not sleep, and that’s the key.

Sponsored by a non-profit group called Idahoans for Openness in Government, the workshops have been performed in 16 cities around Idaho over the last three years.

The marquee name that gets the audience in the door is Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, who signed on to the idea shortly after taking office.

He was having a hard time convincing the Legislature to fund the printing of small booklets on open meetings and public documents. Newsrooms were tired of fighting the same old fights for access to clearly public documents and meetings.

Sparked by our common goal, the idea was hatched to write a mildly amusing series of skits to educate people about the correct resolution to the most common conflicts between the public and government about openness.

Although I have yet to convince him to wear a referee shirt, Attorney General Wasden steps in to referee each conflict, explaining who is right and wrong. Deputy Attorney General Bill von Tagen amplifies the skits with a short talk about public records and a short talk about public meetings, giving teeth to the arguments forming in audience members’ heads. It works.

According to comment forms we’ve collected from the hundreds of people who have attended the workshops from Sandpoint to Preston, it’s one of the better public workshops government and media staffers have attended.

And it works best when the local media participate, the way KPVI did. Kudos to KPVI reporters Ashli Kimenker, Nisha Gutierrez and Tammy Scardino.

The next local performance of the IDOG workshop is October 27th at 6 p.m. at EITC. If you’d like to attend (it’s free) help us make space for you by RSVPing to Bonnie Hansen at bhansen@postregister.com

This article first appeared at The Uneasy Chair, the editor’s blog by Post Register editor Dean Miller.

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