Unrest is simmering in some quarters of the Washington news universe regarding changes in the way the Department of Labor (DOL) manages its pre-release media “lockups” on sensitive data like weekly jobless benefits and unemployment.
For years, journalists participating in the lockups have shown up at DOL at the appointed time, then entered a limited-access area to receive the new data and prepare news stories for release as soon as official embargoes end.
The system insures that major news organizations get the data as soon as possible and allows journalists covering the release get a jump on providing analyses and opinion about the data.
Carl Fillichio, Labor Secretary said “As a measure toward enhancing security in its main lockup facility (the DOL news room), the department will supply and maintain standardized equipment with a standard configuration for all participants. This change means that privately owned computer and telephone equipment, including hardware, software, cabling, wiring and Internet and telephone lines will be replaced with equipment owned by the department.”
In other words, journalists will no longer be allowed to bring their laptops or other equipment to the lockups, they will have to use government-supplied equipment, described by Fillichio as including “a virtualized desktop running a Windows operation system, a web browser, word-processing software, an Adobe Reader application and secure file transfer capability. Equipment provided will not have wireless networking capability. Provisions will be in place for news organizations to transmit their stories over the Internet.”
Charles Glasser, media counsel for Bloomberg News, sent a letter to the department complaining about the new policy.
"Make no mistake, these rules that handcuff the financial press does not merely represent an inconvenience to reporters, nor merely present a "new learning curve" for the press to accept. Instead, the new rules represent a very serious threat to the public's ability to receive critical public information on a fast and accurate basis," he wrote in the letter.