This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
When President-elect Donald Trump ditched the press pool last week, reporters were understandably upset and worried. You should be, too.
If not for some sharp-eyed journalists who happened to see where the soon-to-be leader of the free world went for dinner, America and the world would have little idea where the incoming president had gone.
This is not about reporters wanting to stand over the president-elect's shoulders to see how he ordered his steak, if he chose asparagus or mashed potatoes as his side or record his private conversation with his family. If he'd brought reporters, they'd likely be in a van outside but within eyesight of the restaurant.
Since President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was in the White House, a protected pool of reporters have followed and documented the president's activities. They ride in vans in his motorcade, grab the back seats on Air Force One and step inside the Oval Office for bilateral discussions with heads of state.
They may not see every move the president makes or hear everything he utters, but they'd know where he is at all times. We didn't get to see every golf shot President Barack Obama made, or catch President George W. Bush's reaction to how the Texas Rangers played.
The press pool's duty isn't often glamorous; I've spent way too many beautiful Saturdays at the food court at Joint Base Andrews while Obama hit the links. But I was there, with the pool, just in case.
This isn't about access for the press, but access for America and the world.
And that's why as the head of the National Press Club in Washington, I organized an open letter to President-elect Trump, imploring him to stand by the traditions of a protected press pool and to set an example for the other countries in freedom of the press. More than 20 press freedom groups – like the Society of Professional Journalists, the American Society of News Editors, Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists – signed on this unprecedented letter aimed at striking a positive note as the president-elect transitions into office.
Yes, reporters aim to be objective in their coverage, but part of the job of journalists is to be fierce advocates for press freedoms and access. This isn't about us; it's about you. Actions taken by our leaders impact your lives and you deserve to know what those actions are.
"A great America depends on having sunlight on its leaders," we wrote in the open letter.
While the Press Club speaks out often about freedom of the press across the globe, usually in less-press-friendly countries like Turkey, Iran or China, this year we also paid close attention and spoke out when needed about the U.S. presidential race.
I criticized Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton for her lack of news conferences and at one point, I said it was "un-American" for the Trump campaign to blacklist news outlets it didn't like.
I stand by that because a free society demands a free press. America is a shining example to the world because we value our freedoms, including the First Amendment protection of a free press and free expression.
I've been asked several times why a protected pool is so important and there's a simple reply: Because sometimes, like on a sunny September morning, when the president of the United States is reading "The Pet Goat" to elementary school students in Florida, the world can change.
On Sept. 11, 2001, the press pool traveled with President Bush as America grappled with the largest terror attack on U.S. soil. The journalists were there to assure the world the president was safe, to report his words of comfort and document his day for history.
When the president-elect left behind the press last week, he left you behind, too. Let's hope President Trump doesn't do that again.
Thomas Burr is the Washington correspondent for The Salt Lake Tribune and the 109th president of the National Press Club.