Public information officers play an important role in connecting the government with the media, and by extension, the public, so these workers must be held to the highest standards of responsibility and respect. That a San Diego school district public information officer recently made, and repeated, a joke about a reporter’s dead body is unacceptable.
Regardless of the context of the school spokesman’s comments, the San Diego Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists finds it irresponsible and reprehensible that a government employee who deals with the media on a regular basis would say if a reporter isn’t careful, her body might wash up on shore. Yet that’s what top Voice of San Diego editors Scott Lewis and Sara Libby say Andrew Sharp, the chief public information officer of the San Diego Unified School District, said to reporter Mario Koran about colleague Ashly McGlone.
Sharp has since apologized twice, in a voice mail to McGlone about his “terrible sense of humor” and in an email to Lewis, saying his joke “was in no way intended as a threat against anyone.” Schools superintendent Cindy Marten also said Sharp’s comments were misconstrued: “As indicated by Mr. Sharp, his comments were taken out of context. He in no way meant to threaten harm to anyone. We recognize the importance of a safe workplace and regret an employee was unnecessarily made to feel unsafe in any way.”
We call attention to this episode to emphasize how unprofessional such behavior is and to urge all public information officers and journalists to treat each other with respect, as most do. There is no circumstance in which joking about a journalist’s death should ever be tolerated.
Matthew T. Hall,
President, SPJ San Diego Pro chapter
Regional director, SPJ national board