Rick Lubbers column: Information void during standoff leads to fruitful talks between media, city of Duluth
Whether it's a reporter or someone simply curious about something, we all have access to information that is public.
Ten hours is a long time to wait for information — especially when a dangerous situation is taking place within city limits and a Duluth Police Department K-9 is shot and killed while attempting to apprehend a suspect.
That's the approximate amount of time that transpired from when last week's standoff between David "Pogo" Joseph Wayne Conwell and law enforcement began (Thursday, Feb. 25, at 8:30 p.m.) and when media outlets received an emailed news release (6:42 a.m. Friday, Feb. 26).
These same local newspaper and TV outlets later expressed our concerns over not being informed of a situation that affects public safety. To their credit, city and police leaders immediately accepted our request to meet and discuss ways to ensure other similar events are relayed to the media and the public much more quickly.
To be sure, that standoff was unprecedented in its length, dangerous in scope and involved law enforcement from Duluth, St. Louis County and eventually the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. So there was a lot going on, and we understand that law enforcement's first goal is public safety and resolving a chaotic and fluid situation.
That's why during our post-standoff discussion, the Duluth media outlets asked for even a short sentence or two early on in similar incidents that provide at least a basic framework about what is going on so that we can in turn inform our readers and viewers, and update them as additional information becomes available.
That didn't happen in the early moments of last week's standoff, but we are encouraged that city and police leadership understand not only the local media's request, but also the importance of having basic information on issues of public safety available as soon as possible.
Transparency, Part II
The News Tribune's transparency column ( "Local city, county officials' transparency lacking," Feb. 12) prompted a lot of response.
Many readers emailed or called to convey their support for the News Tribune's data requests as well as their dismay that some public information is not being shared with news outlets and in turn with Northland residents.
St. Louis County Sheriff Ross Litman reached out as soon as he read the column. Though we disagreed on whether the information we were seeking on the status of two sheriff's deputies is public, he did release that information after obtaining permission from the deputies.
We are still working with City Hall on one of our outstanding requests, but we are also discussing ways to hasten the arrival of this information.
City leaders responded with an op-ed for the News Tribune opinion page ( "City committed to transparency, employee privacy," Feb. 19) that included information about how city employees are deluged with data practices requests each week. Indeed, last year City Hall received 4,486 requests (that's an average of 12.29 per day). Of that total, 4,308 were police related and 178 were general requests.
Only 219 of those requests were generated by media outlets! You must have a lot of questions — the remaining 4,267 came from the general public.
But that's the beauty of democracy, isn't it? Whether it's a reporter or someone simply curious about something, we all have access to information that is public.
Keep those questions coming. So will we.