Banned in Pennsylvania p.9

By: Debra Gersh Hernandez DURING THE FIRST blizzard of 1996, the state of Pennsylvania found broadcast media essential for disseminating emergency information and exempted them from travel restrictions.
Not so for the state's newspapers. Their newsgathering and delivery vehicles were among those banned from state and local roads during the early hours of the storm.
The move prompted immediate criticism from state press groups and individual newspapers, which a few hour later succeeded in working toward easing
the restrictions and eventually assuring their modification.
"During the peak of the emergency, our focus was on making certain that broadcast media were able to travel, because Pennsylvanians rely on television and radio news for emergency information," said Lt. Gov. Mark S. Schweiker, chairman of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Council, in a news release.
For some newspapers, like the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Harrisburg Patriot-News, the ban had no effect on their delivery.
Their trucks were not going out anyway.
But for others, the only thing that kept them bottled up was the state declaration.
Lancaster Intelligencer Journal news editor Ray Shaw told the Associated Press, "It's a matter of pride. We're 202 years old and we haven't missed a publication in 202 years."
Since it still was able to publish on Monday, that edition was distributed with Tuesday's paper.
The Pottsville Republican had not missed an issue in 111 years, said editor Jim Kevlin.
"We were printing our papers with the expectation we were going to be able to deliver them," Kevlin said.
"Then we heard on the scanner there was a trooper waiting down the road to arrest anyone who tried to leave [the newspaper building]. We could not distribute," he said. "We were concerned about following the letter of the law until we could get the rule changed."
When it came to newsgathering, reports were mixed.
Philadelphia Inquirer executive editor Robert J. Rosenthal said staffers who were stopped by police during the travel ban were allowed to proceed after they explained that they were reporters either on their way to work or on a story.
"It would be unfair to say we were unable to report," he said.
John Kirkpatrick, editor of the Harrisburg Patriot-News, noted that good reporters and photographers and editors "find a way to get the story. People got to the bureaus and they made calls from home."
Kirkpatrick said he was less worried about the ban than for people's safety, so some staffers stayed at a nearby hotel, which allowed them to walk to and from the office.
"We actually put together a nice paper," he said. "We couldn't get it out."
At the Pottsville Republican, reporters and photographers stayed inside and, in one case, had to cover a nearby fire story by phone, according to Kevlin.
"This issue about prohibiting reporters from going out on the street is the constitutional one," he commented.
Kevlin, who is president of the Pennsylvania Society of Newspaper Editors, also found the broadcast media exemption "particularly galling."
It seems to me, it's pretty clear that regardless of whether the truck can deliver, people should be out there gathering news," he said.
Further, Kevlin pointed out that newspapers are not just print vehicles anymore, as many offer frequently updated audiotex and online information services.
John Comey, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, said the decision to limit road traffic was made by the state police and department of transportation.
While 47 of the state's 67 counties were affected, the governor's proclamation of emergency disaster was concurrent to, but did not govern, the road restrictions, Comey explained.
"There was no listing of essential versus nonessential [traffic]," Comey said. "It was a general statement on road use. Only equipment essential to public health and safety would be allowed on the roads."
The news media became an issue, he said, because the state was using the Emergency Alerting System "to advise residents statewide of the conditions developing, and the broadcast community was absolutely essential as part of that. For that reason, it became clear that the broadcast community needed to be at the stations."
Further, Comey said, since truck restrictions were already in place, "the decision was made that . . . since newspapers could not be distributed, that newspaper reporters should stay home."
Broadcast news crews, however, were allowed on the street, "using caution," after officials "had time to realize they had the capability, with live trucks, to bring instant reports to communities and be an important public education and information tool," Comey explained.
Comey stressed that broadcast media are different, not necessarily better, than print.
"From an emergency public information standard, the electronic media tend to be highlight news and instant access, where the print media [have] far greater detail, but are delayed.
"They compliment each other in meeting the needs of the community," Comey said. "You can read more detail the next morning in the paper. To respond immediately is the role of the broadcast community."
Comey also maintained that the government never restricted the press.
"The government did not close the business," he said. "We did not tell anyone at any time not to open their doors or publish a newspaper. We did tell them not to use the roads."
Since the storm, Comey said state officials have been made aware by state press groups that not only is it necessary for reporters to be out collecting the news when it happens, even if it is printed later, but also that many newspapers offer online services.
"We are sensitive to concern by the print reporters," he said. "We are also sensitive to the fact that with the new expansion of electronic technology, a number of newspapers do provide information without distribution through the normal, printed newsprint medium."
Following the storm, meetings between state officials and representatives from the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publishers Association resulted in assurances that newsgathering would not be restricted, but with no such promises proffered for distribution and printing personnel.
Attending the meeting were PNPA's executive director Tim Williams, and its director of government affairs, Joseph Leighton, the lieutenant governor's chief of staff Dave Sanko and PEMA spokesman Comey, according to Leighton.
"After we explained the situation, we were able to persuade them that [print] newsgathering activities should receive the same treatment as broadcast, so all credentialed journalists will be treated the same from here on out," Leighton said.
Further, while staffers involved in electronic products such as audiotex and online services are included, the agreement does not go far enough in covering people who work in distribution and printing, he said.
"It's far from a dead issue," Leighton noted, adding that the two sides are still working on the matter.


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