In the last few years, Claremont McKenna College, Scripps College and The Claremont Colleges Services have implemented strict communications policies, in order to more carefully craft the public image they wish to display to the world.
We’ve written about our concerns with these policies before, explaining how our working relationship with the colleges suffers as a result. As time goes on, however, it becomes increasingly evident that student journalists aren’t the ones most hurt by these restrictions — it’s the student bodies as a whole that are most affected.
The policies at CMC, Scripps and TCCS are relatively similar — when contacting those employed by any of the three institutions, all media requests must go through their respective communications staffs. On top of this, TCCS denies all in-person interviews, while Scripps and CMC also typically only give written statements.
Unlike at the other 7Cs, which have less restrictive policies, if TSL wants to interview an administrator at one of these schools, we can’t email them with questions, can’t call them on the phone and certainly can’t go to their office. Instead, we have to email a college spokesperson, who then typically works with the professor to create a response to our questions.
As a result, our writers rarely, if ever, have all their questions answered. The delay caused by using a middleman causes setbacks, and statements hardly ever fully respond to the necessary questions.
Take last week’s article about the EmPOWER Center as an example. The center is losing a federal grant at the end of the year, and rumors had been swirling about EmPOWER’s future.
After being assigned to the story, TSL news editor Maria Heeter SC ’22 immediately sent out an email to Rima Shah, the center’s director, cc-ing Scripps spokesperson Rachael Warecki (EmPOWER is run through Scripps).
Heeter’s email had numerous questions relevant to the issue at hand — whether the 7C presidents had decided not to fund the shortfall from the disappearing grant, whether project coordinator Lauren Lockwood would be let go as a result and whether the center’s programming and services would ultimately change.
In response, Warecki sent back a crafted statement from Shah.
Nine times out of 10, the responses we get in these situations either 1) don’t fully answer the question(s) asked, or 2) create the need for additional clarifying questions. This was the case with this story — while the statement confirmed Lockwood’s position was being eliminated, it didn’t even address whether or not the presidents had voted to not pick up the funding.
After Heeter got this statement she quickly responded, asking for clarifications, and also requested comment from Scripps President Lara Tiedens and Lockwood.
Unsurprisingly, our questions weren’t sufficiently answered before press time. We only received this response back from Warecki, just a few hours before we went to print: “The EmPOWER Center’s previous statement reflects the information currently available about the funding decision and the future operations of the Center. The Claremont Colleges do not comment on personnel matters.”
Yes, situations like these are annoying for us. We are a staff of underpaid, overworked student journalists, who deeply value our work — doing an insufficient job does not sit well with our team. When we sit on pins and needles for days waiting for a response, trying to meet our deadlines, only to receive an entirely unhelpful statement, it doesn’t feel good.
The key thing, though, is that we’re not the ones who are most affected by restrictive communications policies. It’s the entire 5C community that bears the burden.
When these schools restrict information and the media’s access to their employees, it creates confusion and frustration for everyone who relies on our reporting to know what’s happening around them. When we can’t access the information we need to write a complete story, our coverage lacks information critical to our readers.
In this case, while we were able to confirm from other sources that the presidents did meet and decided not to pick up the funding for Lockwood’s position, students that use the center as a resource were effectively left in the dark by the schools’ administrators.
We also know there are other rumors swirling about EmPOWER and other 7C resources, rumors we were unable to definitively confirm or deny because our follow up questions weren’t answered, and we couldn’t engage in productive dialogue with EmPOWER or Scripps officials.
By appearing inaccessible and disinterested in the student body’s concerns, the named colleges are directly and overtly making a statement — they don’t care if their students are confused or frustrated.
When we emailed Warecki last semester about Scripps’ communications policies, she said: “The Scripps College Office of Marketing and Communications follows standard media relations practices to ensure that the College provides accurate and timely information to the media.”
But by causing unnecessary roadblocks to the flow of information, Scripps is doing exactly the opposite. When they limit the available information — meanwhile failing to provide sufficient answers — rumors and misinformation abound.
In many situations, we are unable to confirm information from outside sources. Typically, when the schools refuse to address our questions, all they do is leave their own students to guess about what’s going on and create rumors.
This hurts students, leaving them no choice but to speculate — sometimes inaccurately — about what’s going on with no hard information. Ultimately, this generates further distrust of the institutions and the administrators in charge of them.
Imagine a different world, where we’re able to write the article about the EmPOWER Center funding without any restrictions on who we contact or how we do so.
Our reporter schedules a meeting with Shah, and they have a productive, professional, in-person conversation, where all the relevant questions are answered. If Shah says anything confusing, they’re able to ask clarifying questions in real-time. And if our editors have questions later, the reporter is able to directly and efficiently reach back out to Shah to clear things up.
This is how the real world works, and it’s how things should work in all of Claremont. When the schools hold all their employees’ hands, making sure every little thing they say publicly fits the desired public image of the institution — it not only says that they don’t trust those they’ve employed — it says they don’t value their students.
TSL’s editorial board is comprised of its editor-in-chief and two managing editors, and does not necessarily represent the views of other TSL staff members.