Tuesday, November 4, 2008
Now is not the time to define the news media as the industry is undergoing radical change. However, this is what cities like Independence and Lake Oswego, as well as Columbia County, are doing here in Oregon.
Government bodies have a good reason for trying to restrict who sits in on executive sessions, sessions in which they discuss employee, legal and property issues the public is not allowed to attend. In Oregon, journalists are allowed to attend many of these sessions to gain background information and act as a watchdog as long as information discussed during the session is not made public.
However, there are no consequences if a reporter, or a public official, were to share that information. This is frightening for government because they have to trust the journalist in the audience.
The Lake Oswego City Council kicked a blogger out of a recent executive session because it did not trust him or believe his blog, Loaded Orygun, as a viable news source. Independence has never had an issue with bloggers. But city officials sees bloggers only as people who write opinion pieces online, and having bloggers in executive sessions could be harmful as the bloggers could use the information in their posts.
The definition of blog, which is a web log, is outdated. There are angry folks with personal agendas smearing all sorts of people and groups -- but there are also blogs that provide legitimate information. Most major newspapers have journalists and community members contribute to blogs on those newspapers' web sites.
As print media is becoming more costly to operate and the news organizations are cementing their place online, prohibiting bloggers from executive sessions could place a roadblock for journalists of the future. Blogs are very inexpensive platforms to deliver content, and a group of editors may decide to use this platform to be able to hire a larger and more experienced staff in the future. In this instance, a blog would not just be commentary and the quality journalists would be responsible to their editors. Simply because the platform is a blog does not mean a journalist deserves less respect than those of traditional media.
Lake Oswego and Independence's policies would require all journalists to present multiple forms of identification such as a press pass, recently published news article and a letter on company letterhead from an editor of a recognized media organization. This is asking too much. Sometimes reporters are not notified of executive sessions in time to round up all of this paperwork. A simple business card, which journalists always carry with them on the job, would suffice as identification.
Other pieces of the policies pertain to how often the news media publishes and how much of the content goes to news, which is also extreme. The only other reasonable requirement should be that the news media regularly covers the particular city or issues being discussed.
Blogging as a platform for news media is a very real future for the news media. When the current executive session policy was created in the 1973, no one could foresee the online world and how it would change the media.
Taking restrictive policies against bloggers today could create extreme restrictions in a matter of a few years.