It’s a conundrum of sorts – how do you get quality, timely and reliable information out of the Department of Environmental Conservation’s press office? Ever since I was forced to utilize the press office over a year ago (it seems longer) to get any information relating to hunting and fishing, it’s been an uphill battle. In fact, my first contact resulted in me calling the Albany office, talking with someone and leaving a detailed message about what I needed. Two weeks later I missed my deadline … with no contact back. Strike one.
I was able to make some contacts in the press office and they came through with marginal information, giving me quotes that failed to link me directly to the real person supplying the information. Many questions would go unanswered. Call it micromanaging an agency, call it not understanding what we need as outdoor reporters. Why, for the life of me, a state agency could not give me the “official” stocking numbers for Lake Ontario from the previous year because the annual report was not out is beyond me. It was already a month into the next year! I was trying to promote the resource they are charged with trying to promote themselves!
One of the reasons for the micromanaging of the agency as far as the press was concerned was because they didn’t want their grassroots employees taking time away from their work to answer press questions. But if they are the ones who have the answers, and the press office has to contact them anyway, isn’t that really a waste of time and money? And to take that a step further, if average Joe angler or hunter wanted information or had a question, that fisheries or wildlife biologist would answer them … but not if it was a press person. Crazy!
I’m not being singled out, either. At least a dozen writers across the state have faced similar circumstances (that I’m aware of) with the press office and many are becoming frustrated. My last two email requests (because I seemed to get a better response with emails) to the press office didn’t even get a reply or a response. It forced me to go onto the DEC website and find out what Commissioner Joe Martens' email was to pass along my concerns. DEC was getting a black eye.
As background, I introduced Commissioner Martens for his talk at the Outdoor Writers Association of America (and New York State OWA) conference last September. We had a nice discussion on what was happening with DEC and he seemed genuinely surprised that the press office situation had not improved. I thought he would have looked into it. Almost two weeks ago, from the DEC website, there’s an email option to send the commissioner a note. I did just that. But I received the same response that my last two emails did. I would have been better off buying a lottery ticket.
Earlier this month, in a call-in press conference with Assistant Fish and Wildlife Director Doug Stang, the press office needed our help. The big problem was that the state’s licensing system was going to be shut down for at least a week while they transferred data from the old system to the new system. The press office said that they would issue a press release when that date would occur. Knowing how the press release system works, by the time they would issue the release the site would probably already be shut down. There just isn’t enough lead time for us to get it into our columns, blogs or other media outlets. It’s usually less than a week. And that’s just locally. What will that do for hunters and fishermen coming in from out-of-state to enjoy our resources?
In the midst of this entire press debacle, there was a ray of hope. I heard word that one of the wildlife biologists in my region could actually talk to the press about big game hunting. Of course, it was second hand. It was lucky I found out about it. I felt like I had won the lottery – my first real conversation with a DEC biologist on the record in over a year. No, the sky didn’t fall down and the agency received a bit of good press for a job well done.
DEC fisheries and wildlife personnel do a bang-up job for the most part. We’ve made some great inroads over the years in the way of communications channels, establishing a rapport that’s rarely seen between the sporting community, press and a state agency. It’s sad to say that a lot of that is gone. DEC employees walk on eggshells for fear of repercussion, something that could be as severe as losing a job. That’s not a healthy work environment. Something needs to be done to change things – before it’s too late to reverse the damage.