One of the ways people can maintain contact during social distancing is by consuming news – but not if there’s no way to report it.
As businesses shut down and face unprecedented challenges, many are increasingly reluctant to speak with journalists. Several organizations have instituted central communication policies, or cut off access to the press altogether. This is perhaps not surprising given the circumstances, but it demonstrates the challenges this pandemic poses to American ideals of openness and freedom of speech.
As an example, Temple University has required that all coronavirus-related inquires be handled by a single spokesman, Raymond Betzner. Even a couple of weeks ago, employees at the office of International Students Affairs at Temple University said they were uncertain about how to answer questions.
“Marena and I were discussing the request this morning,” said Leah Hetzell, the office’s assistant director. “We needed to reach out to our other colleagues for guidance on how to reply.”
Hetzell and Arrifin said they were hesitant to respond to questions about
how they intended to help students affected by the crisis. They declined to make any further comment and referred all questions to Betzner.
“Due to the nature of the conversation surrounding the coronavirus (COVID-19),” Hetzell wrote in an email, “the University is handling all communications centrally regarding this issue. You can speak directly to Ray Betzner about this topic; he is aware of your request and is expecting an outreach from you.”
Off-campus housing properties began to follow similar protocols. At University Village, at 10th Street and Cecil B Moore Avenue, the front office refused to speak with journalists. Staff referred inquiries to Pedro Gooseman, the maintenance manager. But Gooseman made it clear that he was asked not to make any comment related to Coronavirus. “My friend I’m sorry,” Gooseman said. “I can’t say anything because we were all told not to speak with reporters. If you doubt, you might want to speak with our general manager.” Rachel Cesaceli, University Village’s General Manger, also declined to speak. She said the property’s parent company, American Campus, did not want anybody to speak with reporters. This advice was also given to the company’s other properties, including The View, Vintage, and The Edge.