How Dallas Reporters Used Twitter to Get Un-Banned From Public Meeting

I don’t think I can say it any better than Dallas Morning News reporter Tristan Hallman said it, when he blogged for the News about how he and a handful of local TV reporters were banned from a public, town hall-style meeting involving the Dallas Police Chief one night earlier this week:

“So last night was weird. For 40 minutes, reporters were banned from a public meeting with public officials in a public building.”

Definitely a weird moment, but especially unique was the way those reporters changed the outcome of their night through their tweets.

Apparently when the press arrived, they were denied access, according to Hallman, while community members and residents were free to enter the meeting with Smartphones in tow. The town hall meeting, hosted by Dallas’ Mayor Pro Tem Tennell Atkins and including the city’s police chief and deputy chief, was called to invite residents to discuss recent south Dallas crime, among other topics. The police department has been under scrutiny after a video was released showing one Dallas police officer allegedly violating basic deadly force policy, having shot a mentally ill man who didn’t appear to provoke policemen on the scene or really cause a legitimate threat at all.

Obviously, this is not a topic the police department is thrilled to discuss. But these reporters were simply doing their job by being at the meeting to ask questions while they have access to the chief of police. So banning them from a public gathering in a public building for nearly an hour? If this isn’t a blatant dismissal of the Texas Open Meetings Act and denial of the press’ freedom, I don’t know what is.

This is a perfect example of an authority figure resisting media reps attempting to hold those in power accountable for their actions. I get the push back, but just deciding not to follow the law makes you look like you have something to hide.

Thankfully, the tweets directed straight at the police chief, like this one…

Dallas Councilman Tennell Atkins puts out release on crime/safety meeting w/@DPDChief Brown. Guess what? Media not allowed. Ridiculous.

– @OmarVillafranca

And this one:

@OmarVillafranca @DPDChief media is supposed to be treated same as community.

– @TaylorLumsden

… plus verbal complaints about being edged out, forced the public safety officials to open their doors to the media. Shortly after, Chief Brown tried to make good with the press on Twitter, jokingly inviting Dallas TV reporter Omar Villafranca to lunch at Chili’s to hash out the situation, but not before tweeting this: “didn’t know you were so sensitive sorry for the miss cue.” You can see a Storify by Tristan Hallman of the evening’s events here.

Just goes to show you how social media can help reporters hold powerful people accountable when they try to make your job harder than it should be. Tweet to the person publicly (not in a direct message) what you want/your complaint. Others will see it and back you, and there is strength in numbers. Kudos to those guys and gals for standing up for what’s right and using technology in a smart way. In the future, the police chief will know not to mess around with these particular reporters because they won’t back down easy.

Have you ever been denied access to a public meeting as a journalist? How did you react, and did it change the outcome?