About UsNews Literacy

Actions

Every time officials hide information within a news dump we will link to this article

news-dump.jpg
Posted at 4:25 PM, Aug 09, 2019
and last updated 2020-01-23 15:37:02-05

CLEVELAND — When powerful individuals and institutions have information that they absolutely must make public but absolutely do not want anyone to actually see, they release this information during what we journalists very classily call a news dump.

We have been on the receiving end of so many news dumps that we have begun to call them out when they happen. If officials want to play this game, we say the minimization of accountability is fair game. So we’re going to link to this story every time someone hits us with -- oh, yes, it gets classier every time we say it -- a news dump.

Why is it called a news dump?
This practice is believed to have started, like all terrible things, in Washington, where the press noticed years ago that the White House and other official bodies had a pattern of releasing unflattering information on Friday afternoon in hopes that the sheer volume of late-day madness would prevent some or any of the released information from receiving proper attention.

Today, “news dump” has evolved to mean any piece of news that’s released at an inconvenient time for journalists, such as when there are donuts in the newsroom.

The Friday afternoon news dump
This is the most common news dump. Good news is never released late on a Friday afternoon. That’s because public relations officials want good news disseminated as widely as possible. Good news is released on a Tuesday at 10 a.m., while the sun is out, birds are singing and the Dow Jones is soaring. Bad news arrives in our inboxes on Friday evening at quitting time.

Public relations officials time it this way because they know that newsrooms go from being fully staffed during the week to having a skeleton crew on weekends. Additionally, when we try to call and ask questions late in the day on Friday, hey, it’s conveniently the start of the weekend, and our calls go unreturned.

That said: To the officials who do return calls on nights and weekends -- on behalf of the public, we thank you for helping us keep our communities informed. Know that your names are spoken of in hushed, reverent voices inside our newsroom.

The holiday weekend news dump
When officials really want to bury a story, they release it right before a holiday. On Christmas Eve back in 1992, President George Bush took the news dump to a whole new level when he issued pardons to former Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger and five others who were involved in the Iran-contra scandal.

The ultimate Christmas gift? Or an attempt to minimize publicity? 🤔.

Why news dumps are terrible and everyone should stop doing them right now
If you’re a government official and you’re reading this, here’s something you should know: Newsrooms are now so conditioned to news dumps that if a public official hits us with any news right before a weekend of holiday we become instantly suspicious that your organization is involved in some Watergate-level cover-up. If you want to deepen our suspicions, by all means hit send on that press release at 4:59 p.m.

This is a living article that we will update as shenanigans warrant
As local officials discover new and innovative ways to obscure and hide information -- and they always do -- we will continue to update this article.

It’s time to -- it’s never not classy when we say it -- call a dump a dump.

Joe Donatelli is the digital director at News 5 Cleveland. Follow him on Facebook @joedonatelli1 and Twitter @joedonatelli.

RELATED: Why we don’t run mugshot galleries