Talking to the press increases “citizen knowledge”

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Earlier today, NMID published a story about New Mexico’s 2015 energy plan. That 48-page plan includes recommendations from stakeholders who have ideas about New Mexico’s energy future.

As someone who regularly requests information from government agencies—and is most often told state officials aren’t available to talk—recommendations about an education campaign and a “rapid response team” piqued my interest.

To address the myriad energy issues, the state plan recommends an education campaign to “increase citizen knowledge” of oil and gas operations, renewable energy development, uranium mining and nuclear power development.

It also calls for creating a “strategic alliance of independent experts” to act as a “rapid response team” and provide New Mexico’s cities and counties with “science-based education and technical information regarding oil and gas development.”

These campaigns are necessary, according to the plan’s authors, because many New Mexicans “do not understand the importance of either the oil and gas industry or the overall energy industry to the state.” Some people, the authors write, “depend on non-factual and negative information on oil and gas operations.”

I couldn’t agree more with one particular statement in the plan: “To make informed energy decisions, the New Mexico public and elected officials must have accurate information about pros and cons of energy systems and advances in technologies.”

That’s why I have a recommendation to add: Don’t avoid or ignore reporters who request interviews with state employees, whether they are political appointees, scientists, policy experts, public information officers, or data managers.

As reporters, we’re here to serve the public. We inform citizens and provide them with information they need to make decisions about their communities and families’ futures.

When state officials don’t talk to us—and state plans recommend creating education campaigns or “rapid response teams”—it feels like an attempt to remove that essential check on power provided by a free press.

In fact, it feels like something closer to state propaganda than to the truth.

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