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The mayor on transparency: My spokespeople should give their names

Brooklyn Daily
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Normally, stories in the Brooklyn Paper don’t need a jumping off point, because the news is the jumping point.

But this story is a little different, so indulge me a minute while I do something normally verboten in these pages: the anecdotal lede.

The editor sits in front of the glowing computer screen late at night, looking for the missing commas and apostrophes that are inevitably left out of his cub reporter’s latest story. His eyes bleary, his brain tired, he spots something he hasn’t seen in the past: a spokesperson for the Police Department isn’t named after a quote. “What the hell is going on,” he whispers to no one in particular.

For the last few years, reporters from across the city have had a tough time using the names of the spokesmen and women they talk to at the many city agencies they deal with daily.

Here’s how it used to work: A Brooklyn Paper reporter calls an agency such as the Department of Buildings or the Department of Transportation and asks questions. The spokesperson tells the reporter they will look into those questions and get back to us, which they do within a reasonable amount of time. There may be some back-and-forth as things get clarified, but what we end up with is a statement from a named person representing the agency addressing the issue.

And that was that.

But things recently began to change. Out of nowhere, those agency workers, whose jobs it is to disseminate information, starting asking us to leave their names off the quotes they gave us, preferring we cite “a spokesperson” as the source of the information.

Sadly, many members of the media across the city starting doing just that.

This may seem to be a minor point in a larger game of inside baseball, but the fact is it isn’t. Quoting an “agency spokesperson” instead of a real, live human being removes accountability. If we are not naming names, what is to stop a spokesperson from lying?

So on Thursday, when Mayor DeBlasio sat down with local media in Brooklyn, I asked him if he had anything to do with this seemingly new policy.

“It’s not coming from me, I can tell you that,” the mayor said.

And he quickly agreed this was a problem that needs solving.

“On the official responses, I think it makes a lot of sense to have a name attributed, so we will make sure that is the case. I want to fix that,” he said. “My name is attributed, and [press secretary Eric Phillips’s] name is attributed, and the commission­ers’ names are attributed. And so should anyone else speaking as a spokespers­on.”

Score one for transparency.

So going forward, expect to see the names of the city spokespersons we talk to in black and white next to their quotes, where they belong.

And, hopefully, that’s the last of those wretched anecdotal ledes.

Vince DiMiceli is the editor-in-chief of the Brooklyn Paper.

Updated 5:35 pm, August 23, 2018
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