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Jumping out of the Fishbowl

Mike Smith

Creating Connections between PIO’s and Press

Breaking down barriers between public information officers (PIO) and the working press can sometimes seem daunting. It doesn’t need to be.

The Society of Environmental Journalists conference in Houston, TX brought together the best environmental reporters and leading policy leaders. The conference also attracted leading non-profit organizations like Environmental Defense Fund, Friends of the Earth and The Nature Conservancy (TNC). Several Biden Administration officials served as panelists and educators at SEJ. Attending PIOs were truly able to meet, mingle and provide context for their important jobs in this enviro-driven Administration.

Working together, attending field-based education events, kayaking trips on local rivers and field trips to Houston Zoo to look at endangered species, journalists and officials unified. Barriers to conversation quickly dropped.

Two notable panels of the event involved the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The first panel was proctored by Washington Post Environmental Justice Reporter Darryl Fears, who has served as the lead environmental correspondent for some 20 years. The second panel on Environmental Justice addressed the stark “cancer alley” health concerns of Louisiana and Texas; industrial pollution which impacts diverse or multicultural communities in disproportionate number; and how EPA is standing up Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice (DEIJ) communications within its own ranks.

Yes&_EPA
Darryl Fears (left) , Washington Post environmental justice reporter hosted a panel discussion with the EPA public outreach officials at the Society of Environmental Journalists. Yes& works closely with environmental reporters through our green team ESG practice.


Some highlights of the panels included:

  • EPA Administrator Michael Regan made preliminary video recorded remarks. The context for this session was a memo he sent to all EPA Communications Staff about a year ago last April, asking employees to act as transparently as possible, as if living in a fishbowl.

  • According to Inside EPA, “EPA Administrator Michael Regan is telling agency staff he wants them to work ‘in a fishbowl’ of transparency, saying openness about decision-making is vital as EPA ramps up its regulatory efforts. The agency chief made the pronouncement in an April 12 internal memo that EPA’s press office provided to Inside EPA.”

  • Rosemary Enobakhare, Associate Administrator for Public Engagement and Environmental Education, said: “This EPA Administrator Regan and our agency [are] making sure that any money that leaves this Agency goes back to underserved communities. We are trying to help people and places like Cancer Alley. $14 million of the American Rescue Plan (ARP) money must go back to the communities…People are very hopeful about change [within this Administration],” she added. “There is $11.5 billion to replace the lead service line pipes so that folks can have clean drinking water,” said Enobakhare.
A second-day panel included EPA Press Secretary Nick Conger and Lindsay Hamilton, Associate Administrator for the EPA Office of Public Affairs. The conference event was entitled “Clearing Up the Fishbowl,” and was in response to moderator Tim Wheeler’s FOIA and other memo requests for information and interviews by EPA spokespersons. Wheeler is formerly with the Baltimore Sun and now an editor and reporter for Chesapeake Bay Journal.

  •  Conger promised more transparency from EPA in this Administration. He said, “If we cannot meet with you, we will explain why [we are not standing for interviews].” SEJ members were polled about how EPA is doing, and journalists provided higher marks; though, EPA’s role as “gatekeepers” in handling all interviews remained an issue.

Attending conferences like this one offered effective barrier elimination opportunities by facilitating relationships, learning about needs and interests, and identifying ways to add value to both sides of the messaging equation.

Yes& is the Washington, DC-based marketing agency that brings commercial, association, and government clients the unlimited power of “&” – using a full suite of branding, digital, event, marketing, public relations, and creative capabilities to deliver meaningful and measurable results.

Let’s talk about what the power of "&" can do for you.

Mike Smith
Mike Smith
SVP, Public Relations

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