Why we're not covering the Round-Up rodeo: A note to readers

Friday, April 17, 2009

For the first time anyone here can remember, the Record Searchlight today won't have any journalists inside the rodeo arena at the Red Bluff Round-Up.

We have raised serious practical and ethical concerns about the new "ground rules" the Round-Up Association has established to "manage" our coverage, and have received no sign from its leadership or media representatives that they're willing to discuss the matter.

This means we can't bring you pictures and accounts of the action, and the publication of results may be delayed.

We will, of course, cover events outside the rodeo, such as the Round-Up Parade.

For reasons the association hasn't fully explained, unprecedented restrictions were announced to representatives of the various north state media who arrived at a pre-event planning session more than a week ago. We know that some leaders of the association objected to coverage of a bull that jumped into the stands during last year's event and injured spectators. Round-Up Director Joe Froome told media representatives that this year's rules were established to address concerns about that coverage, adding that the new rules provide "safety" to guests and rodeo participants.

The association introduced a team of "media wranglers" who will, according to their biographies, "address and meet the needs of the media while achieving proper media coverage."

The mechanisms of ensuring "proper coverage" include escorting media representatives upon arrival to designated areas, one of which blocks the view from a handicapped seating area.

It's typical, and logical, for rodeos to control media access to the area behind the chutes. Of course, rodeos generally grant such access as a matter of course; it makes for better coverage of the sport when reporters and photographers can get up close with cowboys and stock.

We've been told such access will be granted, in the words of a spokeswoman, to "press that seem to be engaged in the program and willing to work with us."'

Worst of all, the association informed us that in the event of an emergency (such as the bull jumping into the stands) "wranglers will have a designated area for the media to gather to receive these facts as they become available."

We have received no answer to our request to clarify this point. As of now, it sounds as if we would be agreeing to be rounded up and sequestered if news happens.

There are a number of other rules that seem designed to make life difficult for the media covering the event, but we would accept nearly all of those as the cost of covering the rodeo if that's how they want to set it up.

The reason we declined the press credentials is that one of the four basic ethical principles for journalists is to act independently. It's our job to bring you the news based on our best judgment, not to willingly submit to being "managed."

Cowboys understand simple right and wrong. To us, this is wrong.

Starting at the meeting more than a week ago, we've attempted in various ways to resolve this issue with the Round-Up's leadership. After Managing Editor Carole Ferguson raised initial objections, I spoke with Corky Kramer, a member of the board of directors who referred questions about coverage planning to fellow director Froome, who is heading up media relations this year.

On Monday, having heard nothing, I faxed an urgent letter to Round-Up President David Ramelli, copying Froome and Kramer. I recognize it's a busy week for everyone, but had hoped that some time might be made to discuss this and work something out. Unfortunately, we've heard nothing from the Round-Up.

We recognize that we have no right to tell the Round-Up's directors what to do. These folks give an awful lot of their time to an important community event, and it's up to them to manage it as they see fit.

We have traditionally had good working relationships with the local rodeos, and the Record Searchlight has captured, I'd argue, the best stories and finest photographs of these events for many years.

Rodeo needs its community, and we help provide that connection.

I hope we can go back to doing that in Red Bluff.

Editor Silas Lyons can be reached at 225-8210 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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