Why Must Obtaining Information Be So Difficult?

That whole myth about “freshman 15,” when a first-year student gains 15 pounds, did not apply to me when I first came to Florida A&M.

Some blame it on my fast metabolism; I blame it on my drive to get the news and the exercise that comes with it.

Having more than 200 stories printed in our college newspaper and our website , I know a thing or two about getting the run-around when it comes to gathering information.

Getting information about a serious issue at FAMU or even trying to schedule an interview with a top university official is tough. Getting Barack Obama on the phone just may be an easier task—ok, that’s exaggerated, but you get the idea.

I’ve been taught in several of my journalism courses that the trick to collecting facts on a hard news story is to have a good rapport with everyone associated with said story. While starting off seemed impossible for me to collect information because I didn’t know any of the key players at FAMU, I had to slowly build my reputation as a solid journalist that my sources could trust.

I’ve learned that at FAMU, deans, directors, presidents and vice-presidents have received a “burn notice” and beginning student journalists on campus are all playing the role of Michael Westen. When I started off, I tried speaking with a few university officials and I was either denied an interview or told to send an email with a list of questions.

Sending questions via email is fine, if only the source would actually answer the questions in a timely manner. And when finally receiving the email back, hoping that it is rife with detailed info, the source only took the time to answer one question—with a single sentence—and reference the other questions to the same, single answer. What about follow-up questions, what about detailed answers, what about being helpful?

University officials have told me before that the reason it takes so long to send an email back with answers is because once receiving the email, it must be forwarded to their respective boss who can screen the questions—whatever that means—send the email back and finally, the source for the story can give the desired information. Wow.

When did FAMU become so tight when it comes to interviews? By law, we are granted the right to certain information and according to my teachings; a letter of information request can be issued to gather such in a timely manner. Besides, a source being mum on a situation can make them look bad and one uncooperative source won’t ruin a story.

The writer will simply place within the article that “this source refused or was unavailable for comment,” and move on to the next bit of information. This type of situation does not just apply to FAMU, of course. Last week was Sunshine Week, a week dedicated to media outlets focusing on access to government records and meeting issues. St. Petersburg Times reported on Sunshine Week last week and on Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s take on Florida’s Sunshine Laws.

According to the St. Pete Times article, every year there are attempts in he Legislature to exempt more government records from public view. Without the governor standing as a sentry to discourage new incursions, it could be a difficult legislative session for government-in-the-sunshine.

It seems as though officials are available left and right when something positive occurs at the university. But if it has something to do with layoffs, missing funds, delayed projects or on-campus housing complaints, students and student

journalists would have an easier time finding the Easter Bunny than an official—once again, exaggeration, but you get my point.