The policy will not add a barrier between the board of trustees and media.
By Sergio Medina
The board of trustees unanimously passed a communications policy, which asks district support operations employees to notify the district communications office any time news organizations and student media approach them with questions about district stances on policy and activities.
The policy was approved Dec. 11 at the board’s regularly monthly meeting and is effective immediately.
The policy has procedural measures set for DSO employees, called C.4.1.1 (Procedure) Communications, which reads:
“DSO employees must direct all news media requests regarding district decisions, policies, programs, initiatives, projects or events to the district communications office.”
In a phone interview Dec. 13, Kristi Wyatt, associate vice chancellor of communication and engagement, said DSO employees reached by the media seeking information on official district policy should contact the communications office.
The communications office can be reached at 210-485-0035.
“If the reporter is calling and they’re not looking for an official statement from the organization, (but) they’re asking for a specific answer from the professor’s expertise or staff member expertise, and it’s not on behalf of the organization, then they have the ability to speak to them without contacting the communications office or the PR office, but we encourage them to let us know out of professional courtesy,” Wyatt said.
Before the regular monthly board meeting, Wyatt said a separate procedure for the colleges will be made, as directed by Chancellor Mike Flores. The procedure would encompass all colleges.
The procedure used for the DSO will be used as the baseline for the colleges’ version, which will ask college employees to address questions about college policy to their respective public relations office.
No date was provided as to when the colleges’ procedure will be created and implemented.
Because a college procedure has not been created for the colleges, college employees do not have to contact their respective PR offices when approached with questions about college policy. Furthermore, employees do not need to notify PR offices when sharing information about their areas of responsibilities.
The DSO procedure reads:
“Employees may initiate or respond to media requests regarding their research, teaching, scholarship or professional expertise or matters of public concern.”
Wyatt said to trustees, “I want to highlight and stress very heavily that this (DSO procedure) is communication on behalf of the college district.”
Employees are not prohibited from expressing opinions about the district and its policies, projects and other activities, Wyatt said.
Employees are not prohibited from expressing “anything” as long as they are not speaking for the district, she added.
Additionally, in an interview after the meeting, Wyatt said media interaction with the board of trustees will be unaffected, as they are the representative body of the district and have the authority to speak for it without the involvement of the communications office.
That is a point Wyatt said to the trustees as well. During the meeting, District 1 Joe Alderete asked Wyatt how trustees are to handle themselves when approached by The Ranger or other media.
“One of the things that we outlined for the board specifically is that when we’re talking about policy issues, you are policy makers, and so we hope that when it comes to a policy issue that you would be the ones to represent us to the media.”
In previous Ranger reporting, Wyatt said the original proposal had been withdrawn and brought back to revision after receiving feedback from faculty and staff. Since then, she has visited each college to speak with various groups.
“I have taken opportunity to visit the faculty senates and the staff senates of each of the colleges and talk to them about these policies and procedures so that, as we adopt this DSO procedure, then we’ll have their feedback as we go toward creating a college document,” she said.
The original policy draft, which had been sent back for revision Aug. 16, proposed all employee interaction with the media, regardless of subject, would have to get approval from public relations offices at the colleges. That specific language is no longer found in the new version of the policy.
When asked about how the communication office will work to avoid bottlenecks between the media and district information, Wyatt said she expects this not to be a problem.
“I will tell you that here (at the DSO) we don’t see much of a bottleneck,” she said. “Most of the news organizations, specifically — whether working with the (San Antonio) Express-News or whether we’re working with a lot of the television stations locally — they call us first. And so we understand the news timetable.
“Basically, a story has a short life, and so we completely understand that; we try to respond to reporters within a day, if possible,” Wyatt said.
The procedure includes in text an effort should be made to answer questions from the media within the business day.
“That’s a priority for us, and it will continue to be a priority,” Wyatt said.
For more information on the policy, call Wyatt at 210-485-0035 or email at email@example.com.