As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Fighting for Respect in Sacramento

Also at the Capitol Weekly this week (besides me, fabulous me!) is a good recap of the Capitol Correspondents Association/blogger credentialing flap. Association members are voting today on whether to impose an income test as a condition for getting press access to the Capitol. In the name of allowing credentials for bloggers, the move would restrict pretty much everybody who blogs, as it would require any reporter to earn half their income from media jobs.

Membership does have its privileges. Reporters gain direct access to the floors of both houses, get face time with lawmakers, can mingle with the staffs of the legislators and the committees, and are on the inside watching in real time as policy and politics and power unfold--and unravel. Print and wire reporters, editorial writers, TV reporters, radio reporters, columnists, newsletter reporters, magazine writers, still and action photographers--all carry those laminated photo IDs authorized by the Legislature's Joint Rules Committee, acting on the Association's recommendations.

Traditionally dominated by print reporters, the Association gradually has absorbed other journalistic disciplines into its family. Radio, television, alternative magazines and newspapers, and newsletters all have joined the club over time as each new category was subjected to scrutiny as real newsies.

But the explosion of bloggers has left the association searching for a test of what makes a real journalist.

Like their predecessors, the credentialing dispute reflects tensions between the established media and the new media--of acceptance and credibility--as much as access to the Capitol. The clash is inevitable because the established media make the decision.

It's a classic consequence of letting the gatekeepers make the rules; they're obviously going to be favorable to them and primarily concerned with their own self-preservation.

There are not a vast amount of bloggers with the motivation and the wherewithal to obtain this Legislative credential and do this work. But I want to highlight the real-world impact of this on one of our state's finest online journalists. Frank Russo runs The California Progress Report, one of the few media sources anywhere that covers the legislative process in Sacramento, and he does it with more vibrancy and more earnestness than anybody else around. I often use the CPR to understand what is happening in the Legislature, to get information you simply can't get anywhere else. He is the poster child for the basic unfairness of this ruling.

There wasn't exactly a crush of bloggers seeking credentialing. But one who did was Oakland-based attorney Frank Russo, a Democrat and author of the California Progress Report. Russo was credentialed last year through the speaker's office and sought to renew the credential for 2007, but he was unable to.

When asked why his application was rejected, Russo said: "It beats the heck out of me. When I submitted my application on January 3, I complied with the Joint Rules. I just don't think it's right that you should have to wait two months and then have the rules changed on you." Russo says that few bloggers actually make money off their blogs, thus eliminating them in an income test.

"Frank Russo gets his butt out of the chair and goes out and reports," said Robert Salladay, who runs the Los Angeles Times' political blog, Political Muscle. "Our main task is news gathering. Legitimate bloggers should be engaged, which means picking up the phone, going to events and reporting."

Russo wrote his own article on this decision, and he noted the First Amendment element to this issue.

Last year. I received a press badge from the California legislature. If I'm a "blogger," maybe I've made history. I'm not sure I qualify as a blogger, certainly in the strictest sense of the word as it got started with individuals keeping what they referred to as "diaries." I think of myself as maintaining a website that contains articles and commentary written by me and others about California politics and policy. But I don't think this should make one hill of a bean's worth of difference in my First Amendment rights and that of my readers to be able to get the information I pass on, analyze, and state my opinions about.

In fact, a seminal California Court of Appeals decision O'Grady v. Superior Court 139 Cal. App. 4th 1423; 44 Cal. Rptr. 3d 72 (2006) found that bloggers are journalists under the California Constitution and our state's shield law. As a member of the bar of California, I especially enjoyed reading that decision and the Court's discussion of what has been evolving. In my article about this decision last May, I concluded:

There is a lot more here to this decision. Its reach is huge. If it stands, it will be cited for years to come on issues involving the internet, undoubtedly in ways that we haven’t contemplated.
The times, they are a changing. The San Francisco Chronicle and the San Jose Mercury News are among the papers to report on this decision and its importance. The established press is changing too, and some are becoming bloggers [...]

Gutenberg invented the printing press and that is what the colonists had--hand cranked presses when the First Amendment freedom"of the press" was written. I've seen those presses at Williamsburg and told my son how important they were. Back then you had to own a press to get out information. Now you can do the same, but you don't have to own the internet. There is nothing I am doing on a daily basis that is different from those first journalists in America. If you want to read about this, I suggest "INFAMOUS SCRIBBLERS: The Founding Fathers and the Rowdy Beginnings of American Journalism" by Eric Burns.

The First Amendment should not be for sale in California with the vendor being the established press. We don't need the equivalent of a poll tax for journalists. I value my freedom and don't want to sit at the back of the bus. I'll be driving to Sacramento tomorrow to cover the news. Stay tuned.

It is vital to the future of new media that this gets resolved. Whether the ultimate outcome goes through the courts or is reached through compromise, it is vital that the means of journalistic production does not become an impediment to access to the tools needed to create that production. Some establishment journalists fear the blogosphere and want to keep the responsibility of a free press all to themselves. If the California Legislature was interested in serving the people, they would put pressure on the CCAC to allow those dedicated enough to want to amplify their message to be able to do so.

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