FAMU spokeswoman says email was misunderstood

Courtesy of NABJ

As a person who has spent the better part of my life embracing the free flow of information as a working, and award-winning, journalist I find it ironic that there have been assertions made about my intentions to “ban the media” from proceedings that are considered internal. All this began because I made what I now know to be a mistake in sending an email to colleagues.

Had I had the opportunity to converse with those colleagues, I could have stated that I am actually a media advocate and a strong proponent of transparency. I have spent my entire career espousing such. It is true that in my new role as Assistant Vice President of Communications I have the responsibility of restoring the reputation of my beloved alma mater, Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University. In so doing, I reached out to colleagues to solicit support. In response, that communication was sent directly to media when actually, I was looking for a response from them and their perspectives, even clarification. My email ended with a question that no one answered. In fact, no response to me from said colleagues has come yet.

So, I’ll take this opportunity to set the record straight.

In conferring with General Counsel, I learned (and there is a Supreme Court finding to support) that as an advisory committee, the meetings of the Faculty Senate do not fall under the Florida Sunshine Law. However, my perspective, which was buried in the Tallahassee Democrat story, is that if these meetings are to be open, they should be open to everyone.

In its opinion piece published on Saturday, February 27, the Democrat said they have a “dog in this fight.” Well, that is true. Their reporter was the only one in attendance at the last FAMU Faculty Senate meeting. Why not invite ALL media to these meetings? Not just some, or better yet, one. My suggestion is that even though they are not subject to the Florida Sunshine Laws, let’s go a step further in transparency and public notice them. The idea that only one reporter has knowledge of the meetings and attends them regularly is problematic to me. Let’s open our meetings to everyone. And let’s make sure that everyone in the room is aware that media is present.

Currently, I am producing the largest minority conference for journalists representing members of the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. That gathering of more than 4,000 journalists will take place in our nation’s capitol at the end of the summer. I was chosen to lead this effort because of my very strong reputation in the industry. Does that sound like someone who would ban the media? I don’t think so. And a simple conversation with colleagues would have kept this whole ordeal from becoming an unnecessary distraction.

Let’s get back to business. We have students to graduate.

Elise Durham is an award-winning journalist and Assistant Vice President of Communications at Florida A&M University