Talking out loud
October 2, 2008 · Updated 11:49 PM
Last week we created a bit of a firestorm in the Snoqualmie Yahoo! group when Leif Nesheim, our editor, used some quotes from the group for his story on a scooter ordinance in the city of Snoqualmie.
It seems that some folks speak out loud but only want a few people to actually hear, or in this case, read what they are expressing. After all, the authors posted their statements on a public message board, of which myself and the editor are members, but we probably shouldn't have actually read it, or used it, right? Wrong.
The electronic age has brought many new means of communication. It's also made it easier for newspapers to gather information, although it is a challenge to keep track of all the electronic communication between elected officials. We consistently turn in Open Records Act requests for e-mails and other correspondence regarding city issues or police activity. Very few are considered private if challenged in a court of law.
So when we were told that we should have asked permission to quote the person on the Yahoo! group, which is considered public because membership is free and open to the public, we were a bit taken aback. Would we ask someone at a public meeting if we might quote them? If they said no, does that mean we can't quote them? Heck no. Anything said in a public place with regards to a public issue is considered open and fair game, regardless of who says it.
In this instance, the original outcry on the Yahoo! group prompted the city to take action in developing a scooter ordinance. It is a safety issue if nothing else. Responses were made to the Yahoo! group by public officials. And there lies another reason that the subject is fair game. Any time a public official writes in an official capacity or a perceived official capacity, it is subject to disclosure and may be requested by anyone, not just a newspaper.
So, with the participation of city officials, the string of corresponding e-mails are considered public, as well. Even if Record staff members were not members of the Yahoo! group, we could request the e-mails through the city officials and report on them accordingly.
Regardless of our efforts to report on happenings in the community, my bigger concern is people not wanting their opinions heard. Heck, this is a democracy; the point is to share your opinions and take action. In this case, the opinions of many led to the council taking action. This is a good thing.
Of course, the group could banish the press or anyone who may want to echo its sentiments, but I don't believe the groups are meant to be exclusive. After all, the goal of the group, as well as this newspaper, is to better the community.