July 15, 2015

Thanks to a coordinated effort among Washington political reporters months in the making, White House officials no longer get the first read of daily bulletins that detail the comings and goings of the commander-in-chief.

Pool reports, which chronicle the whereabouts of the president and his retinue, have for months been given to a core group of reporters directly by the print and digital correspondents who write them. Previously, they came through White House intermediaries.

The change is partially in response to concerns raised by White House reporters, who told The Washington Post in September that Obama administration press aides sometimes demanded changes to pool reports before sending them along to the press via email. The aides, reporters said, used their positions as distributors of the reports to “steer coverage in a more favorable direction.”

In an email to the White House press corps Wednesday morning, White House Correspondents’ Association President Christi Parsons praised Zeke Miller of Time magazine for establishing a series of Google Groups which empower White House print and digital reporters to email the reports to one another directly without first sending them to Obama administration officials.

“The Google project has made us a more inclusive group and empowered us in our fight for openness, transparency and media access,” Parsons wrote. “We are stronger when we are talking to each other.”

The groups, which were tested by correspondents last year, have since seen wider use by the White House press corps due to a series of developments over the last few months. In early April, Miller purchased a Web domain with an associated email account. By May, journalists belonging to Miller’s Google Groups began to receive pool reports, written by journalists who tail the president, autoforwarded from Miller’s new account. Over time, Miller says, journalists on the White House beat have grown accustomed to the practice of using the Google Groups to send and receive pool reports.

In addition, the Google Groups have become a clearinghouse of off-the-record information that helps White House reporters manage their time, Miller said. For example, a pool reporter might dash off a late-night message to the rest of the press corps letting them know the president is unlikely to deliver a speech until morning, allowing them to catch a few hours of sleep. Or, the reporter might fire off a quick bulletin telling correspondents that news is on the way, giving them a “two-minute warning” to prepare themselves. Miller says these “pool notes,” which help reporters plan their lives, aren’t meant for wider dissemination through the White House pool list, which contains thousands of recipients.

“There’s information that can and should be shared among reporters that isn’t fit for public consumption,” Miller said.

Miller says that the Google Groups are not designed to be exclusive, and that many journalists who are not members of the White House Correspondents’ Association receive pool reports through the groups.

The White House continues to receive a copy of the pool reports and shares them with its broader list of recipients — including Gawker Media, which makes them public.

“It has taken about a year for the print poolers to come to trust and use this new system, but now virtually everyone who does print pool duty files straight to their peers in the press corps,” Parsons told Poynter in an email interview. “We send a copy to the White House and they share it widely, which is fine; the information belongs to the public, as many of us view it. But the point is that the system now works more like a pool is supposed to.”

Speed is another advantage for journalists who receive the reports through Google Groups. Miller says reporters who receive the report directly from their fellow correspondents get the messages instantly, without the need for oversight from White House officials. He cited one recent report containing a relatively trivial matter that went out to reporters in the Google Group 23 minutes before the White House sent it out for broader distribution.

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Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism…
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