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Ronchetti campaign denies event access to local news outlet

Source New Mexico Senior Reporter Shaun Griswold stands with a sign asking attendees to engage with him as a journalist after the Mark Ronchetti campaign denied him access to their event in Carlsbad, N.M., on Aug. 14, 2022.
Shaun Griswold on Twitter, @shaun505
Source New Mexico Senior Reporter Shaun Griswold stands with a sign asking attendees to engage with him as a journalist after the Mark Ronchetti campaign denied him access to their event in Carlsbad, N.M., on Aug. 14, 2022.

Donald Trump repeatedly denied credentials to media organizations whose coverage he deemed “unfair.” In a move seemingly out of the former President’s play book, the campaign of Republican Mark Ronchetti, who’s running for governor, denied local outlet Source New Mexico access to an event over the weekend featuring the candidate along with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell. Source New Mexico Senior Reporter Shaun Griswold spoke with KUNM about what happened, why it matters, and how he was still able to get his job done.

SHAUN GRISWOLD: We put in an application for press credentials with Enrique Knell, who works on the campaign for Ronchetti. I also had registered for tickets that were made available to the public, preparing for the issue of possibly not getting credentialed, because this is something that I had experienced in previous years, where press access was limited. But we still have a responsibility to inform the public about what's happening. We were denied press credentials. I drove to Carlsbad the next day, though. I park, I take my ticket, and I walk up to the front. One of the security guards walked up to his colleague, pulled his phone out and said, 'That's him,' referencing a photo that was on his phone. That guard asked me my name, and then where I worked. And before I could answer, he then just said, 'Are you Shaun Griswold? Do you work with Source New Mexico?' So, there was clearly some communication between the campaign or event organizers with this private security. They also had a picture of me. Sadly, I didn't get to see the photo, so I don't even know if it's flattering or not. But yeah, I was denied entry.

KUNM: All right. And what was the Ronchetti campaign's rationale for denying you access?

GRISWOLD: So, this is the response that was sent to us by Enrique Knell to my editor-in-chief. It says, "Credentials will not be issued to your organization based on our past interaction, your funding sources, and your organization’s stated objectives. It's clear Source New Mexico is a left-wing political advocacy organization, and not a news outlet."

KUNM: For folks who aren't familiar with your outlet, Source New Mexico, what are your objectives?

GRISWOLD: We say that we're scrappy, independent journalism for you. We're here to inform the public about what government is doing, what our elected officials are doing, and the policies that affect everyday New Mexicans.

KUNM: You're part of a network of States Newsroom, which has outlets in I believe 28 states at this point, with a focus on state politics and policies. Where does your funding come from?

GRISWOLD: A batch of donors as well as grants that we've received money for. And actually, we have a list of all of our donations over $500. That's publicly listed. As a nonprofit, we're required by law to unveil who gives us money. As you mentioned, the primary focus is that we have States Newsrooms across the country covering [state] capital stuff. And the overall effort is to provide coverage on government in local areas where there is no news coverage of this topic.

KUNM: So, Source New Mexico is a nonprofit, legitimate, independent local news outlet — not an advocacy organization. And it's important to contextualize this incident in that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was speaking — who's considered a contender for the GOP presidential nomination — and denying press credentials to events and news conferences is something we saw quite a bit under former President Trump, including reporters from the Washington Post, CNN, Univision and Politico, among others. What is the broader concern beyond you and Source New Mexico being turned away from Ronchetti's event?

GRISWOLD: I think that we saw a lot of what happens during the Trump administration when you prevent access and you shield information from the public. You're unfettered, it's harder to reach accountability, and it also leads to an argument over what's the truth and what's factual. And then on top of that, you know, from a press perspective, limiting access to any media — people who are just trying to do their job — is just a violation of the First Amendment and how our country and the foundations of this democracy should be going forward.

KUNM: And now, you didn't give up on reporting this story when you were turned away at the door. You tweeted out a picture of yourself holding a sign in the parking lot outside the event center that read, "I am a journalist. Why are you here?" and "What can news do better?" How successful was this approach? And what did you hear from folks?

GRISWOLD: It was very successful. I talked to people who said they don't know media, they've never met a journalist before, and we had a positive interaction. The number one thing I heard from every single person about what news could do better is to tell the truth. That's part of my mission, that's all we strive for. And for them to hear that from somebody local, somebody who's from New Mexico, I think was a positive experience on their end.

KUNM: Right on. And you did get a story out about the event. What did you hear from attendees?

GRISWOLD: Credentialed media were not even allowed to talk to anybody in attendance. So, I had to be the one to talk to the people outside. No. 1 for southern New Mexico voters is that they want more conservative representation in New Mexico. And they would like to see the deregulation of oil and gas, see agriculture expansion, and just provide better jobs. It was also a complete referendum on the policies of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

The Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande Chapter has issued a statement criticizing Ronchetti’s actions.

Nash Jones (they/them) is a general assignment reporter in the KUNM newsroom and the local host of NPR's All Things Considered (weekdays on KUNM, 5-7 p.m. MT). You can reach them at nashjones@kunm.org or on Twitter @nashjonesradio.
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