Pushing for transparency

By: 
KateLynn Slaamot, NLJ Reporter

After over four years of writing mostly feature stories about local people and their milestones, accomplishments and the things they love (which I love!), I have officially finished my first “hard news” story, which feels like a milestone in my life. 

The story, appearing on page one of this week’s paper, is about the governor-appointed Wyoming Wildlife Taskforce and a recommendation they made to split mule deer and white-tail deer hunting licenses in the state and the possible impact it could have. 

I don’t need to repeat myself about all that, you can read about it in the story. However, writing this story was a valuable learning experience for me, not just to dive into and learn about an interesting issue facing our state, but to gain experience dealing with government agencies to get the information I needed, which was probably more difficult than it should have been in this instance. 

Now, in the end, I did get all the information I needed, and I greatly appreciate everyone who took time to visit with me along the way. However, there was definitely a pattern in my research that revealed that information was probably less accessible than it should have been for the public. 

When I first began this journey, I decided to head to the Wyoming Wildlife Taskforce Google site to familiarize myself with the taskforce and its purpose, to find out more about the specific recommendation I was doing the story on and to find sources and contact information for the taskforce members. 

I was a little stumped at what I found. Or, more accurately, what I didn’t find. When I visited the Google site, I couldn’t find anywhere to read about the recommendation I was looking for, which was unfortunate because I knew next to nothing about it. 

So, my next step was to contact some taskforce members to get information from them. The Google site had a neat listing of all the taskforce members, which was helpful. What wasn’t exactly helpful, though, was that none of them had any contact information listed. 

I found an email on the site for whom to contact if I had questions, so I sent an email asking how I could get in touch with taskforce members. The response told me to check the site and that I should be able to find the information there. So, thinking that maybe I’m really blind (or blonde) after all, I went back to the site to make sure I didn’t miss contact information right before my eyes. But, I came across the same issue. 

So, being the amateur reporter that I am (who probably has a thing or two to learn about being a bit more assertive), I just decided to try to find out the emails my own way, by searching the taskforce members names and businesses. 

I only found a few, but I emailed the ones
I found. 

The first who got back to me were taskforce member Brian Nesvik, director of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, and Sara DiRienzo (not a taskforce member,) the department’s public relations officer. We set up an interview for shortly thereafter. 

After visiting with the two, I shared my concern that I couldn’t find any contact information for taskforce members and DiRienzo was quick to offer that she could get me the contact information for anyone I needed, and she did. I also shared that I couldn’t find any information about the recommendation on the taskforce’s Google site, and she said that it was up on the site now. 

I was actually pretty excited to be able to go read the proposal and continue my research quest. When I clicked on the link to the letter on the site, however, it made me request permission to access it.

That was a little strange, considering that all the other recommendations that were listed let me look at them without a question. 

Access was granted to me in a timely fashion, within a couple of hours, and, in the end, I was able to get the information I needed to put together an informative story. However, I was concerned with how inaccessible information that should be readily available to the public at large — not just to me as a reporter — seemed to be. 

In the end, this experience encouraged me to continue working with our government agencies and exercising my rights to access information that should be public. Government transparency starts with us, and depends on our willingness to seek out information — and occasionally let the proper authorities know when it isn’t as accessible as it should be. 

 

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