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American Journalism Review
No Interview for You  | American Journalism Review
 AJR  The Beat
From AJR,   October 2000

No Interview for You   

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources tries to exert more control over one reporter.

By Jennifer Larson
Jennifer Larson is a former AJR editorial assistant.     

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources tries to exert a little more control over what a certain reporter--Dennis Anderson of Minneapolis' Star-Tribune--has to say.
According to a department-wide memo from DNR commissioner Allen Garber, Anderson must promise in advance that he will provide a written draft of any article to a DNR employee that he plans to interview. If Anderson, a reporter and columnist who has covered the outdoors in Minnesota for more than 20 years, says no, "then you should decline to participate in the interview," the memo says. The purpose of the new policy is to "ensure that Dennis Anderson's articles do not paint us as deceitful, incompetent, and less than candid."
Anderson's June 2 column questioned the timing of a DNR announcement of a study to examine reducing limits of the number of fish people can catch and keep. The announcement came two weeks after the state Legislature had approved additional funding for the DNR. According to Anderson, Garber wrote a letter to the Star-Tribune to express his displeasure with the column and met with Star-Tribune editors. Garber then circulated the memo July 28.
When Anderson heard about the new policy, "I went ballistic internally," he says, adding that he always made every effort to be fair. Anderson says Garber "labeled me as the one person among the media who does not get it accurate or get it fair."
Dennis Stauffer, communications director for the DNR, says the policy is unusual, but the department felt that a strong action was needed, considering the DNR has had issues with Anderson's coverage in the past. Stauffer adds that Anderson had sometimes provided partial drafts to sources as a courtesy--Anderson says he has done this--and the DNR did not see a great deal of difference in Anderson's earlier actions and the DNR's policy.
Star-Tribune Editor Tim McGuire says the paper has "written a letter stating the facts are different than Allen Garber has indicated that they are.... We're considering further action but would like to see his response." He adds, "We're hoping he reconsiders."
Gary Gilson, executive director of the Minnesota News Council, which mediates press-public disagreements, calls the policy "a real miscalculation on the part of the DNR." Mandates such as these, Gilson says, usually "don't work, and they're a real disservice to the public."
Anderson doesn't expect the DNR to back down. "I personally am not going to comply," he says. "But [the DNR] has defamed me, in my opinion."



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